NFL Fantasy Football News & Info 2021/2022 🏈

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football: AFC South division storylines to watch​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

AFC South​

Key fantasy offseason movement​

--Start at quarterback in this division, as the Jacksonville Jaguars proudly used the first selection in the draft to secure future star Trevor Lawrence, while the Indianapolis Colts used draft picks to trade for controversial Philadelphia Eagles starter Carson Wentz. As for the Houston Texans, well, that situation remains unclear at this point. Controversial Deshaun Watson remains on the roster, but between his trade demands and his legal issues, it may not be for long.

--The Tennessee Titans have no such issues at quarterback, as Ryan Tannehill finished seventh at the position in PPR points, ahead of Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert. Yeah, Tannehill was exceptional and now he gets to add future Hall of Famer Julio Jones to his stable of options to target. Jones came from the Atlanta Falcons for draft picks and should upgrade from what Corey Davis (now on the New York Jets) achieved, but Davis had a solid season. Jones must share attention with electric A.J. Brown and in an offense that was second to the Baltimore Ravens in rushing yards. In Derrick Henry, we all trust.

--The Jaguars hardly stopped with a new quarterback. New coach Urban Meyer, in his first foray into the NFL, made sure another talented Clemson product joined the crew by drafting running back Travis Etienne Jr., and he may see extensive work in the passing game. Former Detroit Lions veteran Marvin Jones Jr. should aid the young wide receiver corps led by DJ Chark Jr. as well. Assuming Lawrence is as good as most everyone believes the Jaguars may end up in myriad shootouts this fall, which is just fine in fantasy.

Something to prove​

--Wentz neither won nor even finished the opening quarter of a playoff game with the Eagles and could not wait to start over somewhere else. He becomes the Colts' fourth starting quarterback over the past four seasons, following Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. Two of them are now retired, while Brissett backs up Tua Tagovailoa with the Miami Dolphins. The pressure is really on for Wentz, an MVP candidate back in 2017 who has battled injury and erratic play much of his career, but few doubt his impressive skillset.

--Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was once a fantasy star, but he enters his 10th NFL season coming off several frustrating campaigns. Hilton boasts three NFL seasons averaging 90 receiving yards per game. He led the league in 2016. The past two seasons, he has averaged 50 receiving yards per game. He turns 32 this fall and this may be his final chance. Meanwhile, running back Marlon Mack, on the mend after tearing his Achilles' in Week 1, also may be running out of time in the fantasy world, especially with Jonathan Taylor entering his second year expected to reach stardom.

Whose fantasy stock may fluctuate?​

--Fantasy managers may presume Etienne racks up tons of fantasy points, but it is not as if James Robinson just went away. There is competition! Robinson, the undrafted rookie and fantasy find who finished seventh at running back in PPR points, and fifth in PPR points per game among qualifiers last season, figures to remain a key part of the offense and should end up the better bargain in drafts, PPR or otherwise. Watch the Jaguars tout his positives all summer, even as Etienne flies up draft boards. Lawrence offers tremendous skills, and he should approach QB1 status in drafts, which seems optimistic.


--Watson's season seems far from clear at this point, so investing as if he will produce another top-5 fantasy season is dangerous. There are larger things going on here. Fantasy analyst rankings on him are all over the place, some presuming all will work out and he delivers top-10 numbers, others wanting no part of this. My hand is up for the latter scenario. We should point out journeyman Tyrod Taylor likely starts for Houston in Week 1. Taylor used to be intriguing because he accumulated rushing yards, though he is 31 and far from his starting days. Stanford's Davis Mills came via the recent draft and may get his shot sooner than anyone expects, for deeper fantasy formats in which every starter matters.

--Meanwhile, the Texans still need to fill a football team, and they a jolt in the running game after finishing 31st in rushing yards, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Steelers. Enter former Denver Broncos undrafted surprise Phillip Lindsay. His is a one-year deal and he must battle overrated incumbent David Johnson, former Raven Mark Ingram and former Patriot Rex Burkhead (yep!), but I like Lindsay's chances here. Fantasy managers keep gravitating to Johnson, but 2016 was such a long time ago. Johnson is 29.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football: Saints QB battle among top NFC South storylines to watch​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

NFC SOUTH​

Key fantasy offseason movement​

--The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were rather quiet, keeping just about every impact player on the roster, but interestingly enough, a pair of future Hall of Famers have left the division. The New Orleans Saints have not had to name a new starting quarterback since Drew Brees arrived in 2006, but he has retired and they seem to be taking their time naming a new one! Brees won 142 regular season games for the Saints and a Super Bowl, and just as with Peyton Manning, we will probably keep seeing Brees on our TV sets for a while, just not accruing relevant statistics.


--Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons, also with a tight cap situation, traded wide receiver Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans for draft picks, ostensibly replacing their all-time leading receiver (848 catches, 12,896 yards, 60 TDs) with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, the No. 4 choice in the draft. Hey, this could work out nicely. Pitts is a fantastic talent. Matt Ryan can still sling it. Calvin Ridley is great. The Falcons also ditched running back Todd Gurley II after one disappointing season, bringing in journeyman Mike Davis, and it may be an upgrade. Pitts is going to be great.

--The Carolina Panthers also have a new starting quarterback, moving on from former Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater after one rough season, and trading for New York Jets disappointment Sam Darnold. What could go wrong? Darnold, with 39 interceptions versus 45 touchdown passes in a spotty, underwhelming, three-year career, gets to play with the best running back in fantasy (assuming health) and reunites with wide receiver Robby Anderson. His new tight end is another former Saint in Dan Arnold, and his name sounds a lot like Sam Darnold, right? Try saying "Dan Arnold-Sam Darnold" five times fast. Dare ya.

Something to prove​

--As for the alluded to running back in Carolina, Christian McCaffrey, after producing a ridiculous 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns in 2019, averaged even more PPR fantasy points per game in 2021! The problem was he participated in a mere three regular season contests, succumbing to various injuries that tortured fantasy managers. The Panthers drafted Oklahoma State star Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round, and McCaffrey investors may want to practice the fine but often overrated art of drafting insurance here, but really, we just want McCaffrey to dominate for four months again.

--Whichever direction the Saints go at quarterback, that fellow has something to prove. Athlete Taysom Hill won three of four starts last season, relying on his legs and not quite his throwing arm, while Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers quarterback pre-Tom Brady, desires to throw on every play and only occasionally knows where the football is going. Very different players. Fantasy managers can win either way. Hill rushed for eight touchdowns in 2020, half of them coming in his starts. Winston barely played, throwing a mere 11 passes, but nobody had more passing yards (5,109) and interceptions (30) in 2019. This will be interesting!

--Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, much like McCaffrey, delivered a record-breaking 2019 campaign (149 catches, 1,725 yards) and fantasy managers invested quickly in Round 1 for 2020. Then Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 and ... that was mostly it. He played in seven games, and a few of them in the second half of the season went statistically well, but he scored nary a touchdown. He should bounce back but again, he has a new quarterback.


--As for the Buccaneers, Brady sure proved himself in his age-42 season, tossing 40 touchdown passes, a figure he never reached for the New England Patriots. The skill players around him, however, dealt with the offense's noteworthy depth, affecting all their stats. Running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, either of whom would be a nice RB2 in fantasy if the other was somewhere else, now have to compete with pass-catching Giovani Bernard as well. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin shared targets with Antonio Brown, compromising them all a bit, and tight end Rob Gronkowski really needed touchdowns to save his fantasy value. It is crowded.

Whose fantasy stock may fluctuate?​

--Everyone loves the rookies, most entering the league with worlds of promise and fantastic college numbers, and they tend to swiftly rise in summer ADP, deserving or not. Pitts may really deserve it. Fantasy offers three top options at tight end, and then things are a tad problematic. Pitts likely ends up fourth at the position in drafts and I actually think that is just fine.

--Whomever wins the quarterback job in New Orleans seems unlikely to infiltrate QB1 status in drafts, but many leagues enjoy multi-QB formats or allow the position at flex. Winston is a more proven option than Hill, obviously, and if the former starts, the latter would remain involved in the offense. That would not be the case if roles reverse. In addition, star running back Alvin Kamara saw his role drastically diminished, albeit in a small sample, when Hill started in 2020, and that may scare fantasy investors if Hill wins the job. By the way, for those in dynasty formats, Notre Dame's Ian Book, a fourth-round selection, may actually be the organization's future at quarterback.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football: Who stands to gain/lose the most targets in 2021?​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Identifying the best skill sets might be paramount to fantasy football success, but a player can't get there without opportunity. Spend the majority of your time evaluating the former, but don't do so at the complete expense of the latter.

At the receiving positions, fortunately, there's a quick-and-easy method to identify players who stand to gain or lose opportunity in the coming season: The vacated-targets method, which compares a team's past year total to the total accumulated by the players on its roster for the upcoming season. It stands to reason that if a team lost personnel during the offseason, that means more opportunities should open up for the players who remain, and if a team added personnel without removing any, it means more mouths to feed and therefore diminished opportunity.

It's an inexact science, as injuries do impact these numbers, as you'll see with the first team on the list below (though in their example, the absent player's departure actual signals even more targets that might've been vacated had he stayed healthy). Regression to the mean, or progression to the player's expected average, also impacts vacated-target numbers, as in the example of the Baltimore Ravens, who threw a league-low (and lowest single-year total by any team in eight years) 406 passes in 2020 and will probably see an increase (even if slight) this season.

The types of targets also have influence on opportunity, as not every target is equally valuable. It's for that reason that, this season, I've also split out red-zone and end-zone targets, as well as targets by position, in order to identify specific changes in opportunity for each team.

The following four teams stand out as those who should provide great, expanded opportunity for current receivers on their rosters, due to the departure of key players from 2020. These teams rank among the leaders in vacated targets:

i
Detroit Lions: Since the conclusion of last season, they've lost their No. 1-on-the-depth-chart wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, who led the team in targets in both 2018 (119) and 2019 (117) and had 32 in his five games played in 2020, as well as their top two target-getters from 2020, Marvin Jones Jr. (116) and Danny Amendola (68), to free agency. All in all, this team has a league-high 180 vacated targets, all of them by wide receivers, and their 22 vacated red-zone and 13 end-zone targets are fourth- and third-most. There's a lot of chatter surrounding tight end T.J. Hockenson, who had 102 overall, 15 red-zone and eight end-zone targets in 2020 and will be entering his third NFL season, and will be playing under a tight end-friendly coach in Dan Campbell with a new quarterback in Jared Goff who targeted the position 22.8% of the time in 2019-20 combined. While it's difficult to envision Hockenson absorbing the majority of those vacated targets, considering he had the fifth-most at his position already and the top tight ends annually usually total in the 140s, there's still enough opportunity to potentially vault him into the positional top three. It's also a golden opportunity for wide receivers Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and fourth-round draft pick Amon-Ra St. Brown, as someone is going to grab a sizable chunk of Goff's passes. St. Brown is one of my preferred rookie wide receiver sleepers for this reason.

i
New Orleans Saints:
Their 143 vacated targets rank fourth-most in the league, but they're more of an offseason story than the two teams ahead of them, following quarterback Drew Brees' retirement. That'll probably change the team's offensive makeup, considering the Saints averaged 10.5 pass attempts per game fewer during Brees' Week 10-13 absence than the remainder of the year, but it's still a significant enough number to enhance some of their receivers' opportunities. Most notably, 19 of those were end-zone targets, the NFL's largest vacated number in that department, 10 of which belonged to tight end Jared Cook. That's a lot of the reason for Adam Trautman's sleeper case, as the second-year player stands to benefit most from coach Sean Payton's historically tight end-friendly offense.

i
Cincinnati Bengals:
Before Joe Burrow's season-ending injury, theirs was one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the league, their 371 attempts through Week 10 ranking fourth-most. While Burrow's recovery from reconstructive knee surgery might keep the team from leaning excessively heavily upon him, the Bengals' makeup suggests this should again be one of the most pass-oriented teams around. That's what makes their 175 vacated targets, the second-most in the league, so significant, as theirs is an up-and-coming passing game where opportunity could fuel a breakthrough for any of three different wide receivers: Tee Higgins, rookie Ja'Marr Chase or Tyler Boyd. In other words, departed wide receiver A.J. Green's 107 targets will go to one of -- or more likely divided up amongst -- the three, with Higgins and Chase particularly attractive candidates as second- and first-year receivers who line up on the perimeter. The team also lost Giovani Bernard's 58 targets and didn't really bring in a viable candidate to absorb them, so there's a good chance that Joe Mixon could breeze past his career high of 55 targets (2018), giving him bona fide RB1 appeal.

i
San Francisco 49ers:
What stands out most in their numbers is their league-high 26 vacated red-zone targets, as while they might be a less pass-heavy offense should rookie Trey Lance quickly overtake Jimmy Garoppolo as the team's starting quarterback, someone stands to benefit with those looks in scoring position. Brandon Aiyuk (14) was the team's categorical leader in 2020 and Deebo Samuel (17) and George Kittle (16) were easily one-two in 2021, and all three might stand to benefit with Kendrick Bourne (10), Jordan Reed (8) and Trent Taylor (8) no longer on the team. From a total-targets angle, the 49ers' 123 vacated ranks fifth-most.

Other teams high on the vacated-targets list: Los Angeles Rams 146, Carolina Panthers 108, Seattle Seahawks 83, Indianapolis Colts 75.


Conversely, these two teams are in a bit of a numbers crunch, having added personnel to an already crowded roster. Incumbent receivers on each might take a hit in 2021 in terms of opportunity:

i
New England Patriots: They spent a combined $136 million on wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Bourne and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith during the offseason, and after doing the math, they'll need to squeeze 221 more targets from 2020 into their stat sheet in 2021, by far the most in the league. It's the reason that fantasy analysts and early drafters are so unwilling to take a stand on either Henry or Smith, with each threatening to cut into the other's opportunities, and it's perhaps a reason why wide receiver N'Keal Harry is requesting a trade. Keep this in mind, too: The Patriots, at least for so long as Cam Newton is the quarterback, are certain to be one of the most run-oriented offenses in the league, so it's not like coach Bill Belichick is going to significantly shift directions and send 200-plus targets the receivers' way. Someone is going to lose out here, and early signals that Jakobi Meyers should retain his No. 1 receiver status hints that all of the free-agent additions might be it, so all that tight-end hedging probably does make sense.


i
Washington Football Team: For as much as I like the Curtis Samuel fit, adding his 97 targets to the ledger does present opportunity-driven issues, as Washington's 118 added targets rank second-most in the league. This team barely shed any receivers during the offseason, and it's not like it was an exceedingly run-oriented team in 2020, ranking ninth with 601 pass attempts. Terry McLaurin (131 targets), J.D. McKissic (111) and Logan Thomas (108) remain, and all of them seem likely to remain big parts of the passing game. Someone stands to lose some of that opportunity, and it's possible it'll be spread across the quartet.

Other teams high on the added-targets list: New York Jets 84, Buffalo Bills 67, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 52, Miami Dolphins 50.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Backup RB rankings: Pollard poised to shine if opportunity knocks​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Fantasy football insurance is a tricky animal.

On one hand, you want to protect yourself from injuries by warehousing your star player's backup.

On the other hand, the opportunity cost of expending that roster spot could cost you a valuable waiver pickup.

The fact is insurance is a valuable tool if used correctly.

Some backups are very good players, while others are not. In the event of an injury, some would be positioned for a clear path to a large share of touches, while others would see only a slight uptick in work. When evaluating insurance, the best game plan is to select players with high ceilings should the player ahead of them on the depth chart miss time. For example, if Dalvin Cook goes down, Alexander Mattison would handle a feature back role in Minnesota and would be in the RB1 discussion. If Derrick Henry goes down, however, some combination of Darrynton Evans, Jeremy McNichols and Brian Hill would share touches and none would be a clear fantasy starter. If you selected Henry and not Cook, don't cross Mattison off your draft board and force a dart throw at Evans. Pick the guy who can win you a league championship, not a player who would barely be worth flex consideration.

Below is an examination of the 2021 running back insurance landscape, with a 1-to-32 ranking of the top RB backups for each team, as well as some thoughts on how the backfield might look if the starter goes down.

For updated insurance information and advice throughout the season, be sure to keep up with our fantasy depth charts.

Running back insurance rankings

1. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns - RB1 if Nick Chubb is out


Hunt is the best insurance option in the business, but the problem is that he also has standalone value and is quite expensive on draft day. The 26-year-old was fantasy's No. 13 RB during 11 games both he and Chubb played in full last season and 11th during the four games Chubb was out. Hunt is already a borderline RB2, but with little competition for touches in a run-first offense with an elite offensive line, he'd leap into the top-10 (if not top-5) in the event of a Chubb injury.

2. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys - RB1 if Ezekiel Elliott is out

Pollard has played well as Elliott's backup over the past two seasons, though the 2019 fourth-round pick has only played more than 47% of Dallas' snaps in one game. That was a Week 15 game last season in which Elliott was sidelined. Pollard impressed with 12 carries for 69 yards and two TDs, as well as 63 yards on nine targets. He was fantasy's top-scoring RB that week. Pollard doesn't have standalone value, but he'd leap into the RB1 mix if Elliott were to miss time.

3. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings - RB1 if Dalvin Cook is out

Mattison has proven to be an effective back during his first two NFL seasons, but the 2019 third-round pick simply hasn't see the field much when Cook has been healthy. Cook has struggled with durability, however, missing at least two games in all four of his NFL seasons. In three games in relief of Cook last season, Mattison was fantasy's No. 7 RB thanks to 277 yards and three TDs on 58 touches. With Ameer Abdullah and fourth-round rookie Kene Nwangwu his primary competition for touches in the event of another Cook injury, Mattison would be positioned for a large workload and would be in the RB1 discussion.

4. Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars - RB1 if James Robinson is out

I could've gone either way here, as the Jaguars are expected to utilize a committee backfield this season. Both backs are very pricey in drafts, but it's pretty clear that, should one go down with an injury, the other would rise to borderline RB1 territory. Carlos Hyde would play a role on early downs, especially if it's Robinson who misses time, but not enough of one to significantly impede starting-caliber production for the team's lead back.

5. AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers - RB2 if Aaron Jones is out

With Jamaal Williams now in Detroit, Dillon is all but cemented as Jones' primary backup. The 2020 second-round pick will play a significant offensive role even with a healthy Jones, but may not see near enough passing down work to allow standalone value. However, if Jones is out, 247-pound Dillon would be the high-scoring Packers' feature back and handle goal line work while chipping in with, at least, the occasional catch or three. With Dexter Williams and seventh-round rookie Kylin Hill his primary competition, Dillon would rise to RB2 -- if not RB1 -- territory.

6. Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders - RB2 if Josh Jacobs is out

Drake is going to get plenty of run as a change-of-pace back behind Jacobs this season, but he's likely to struggle for consistent fantasy production barring a Jacobs injury. Drake has 266 career targets and ranked no lower than 12th in snaps, carries, rushing yards, TDs and carries inside the 5 while with Arizona last season, so we know he can handle lead back duties if called upon. Jalen Richard and/or Theo Riddick would likely steal some passing-down work, but Drake would leap into the top-15 mix if Jacobs were sidelined.

7. Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos - RB2 if Javonte Williams is out

Gordon may be the veteran and incumbent starter, but it's the second-round rookie Williams who is being selected earlier in most 2021 drafts and who figures to take over as lead back fairly quickly. Of course, like with Jacksonville, this is going to be a two-headed backfield and, should one of Williams or Gordon go down, the other would see a moderate-to-large increase in workload. The healthy back would defer some work to Mike Boone (and perhaps Royce Freeman), but 17-to-20 looks would be on the table.

8. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals - RB2 if Chase Edmonds is out

A healthy Conner very well could lead Arizona in carries this season, but also be the 1B to Edmonds 1A in terms of overall touches. Edmonds is the better receiving option of the two, though should he miss time, Conner could pick up most of the load. The 26-year-old has caught at least 34 passes each of the past three seasons, including 55 in 2018, so we know he as it in his arsenal. Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward are next up on the depth chart and neither played an offensive snap last season.

9. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints - RB2 if Alvin Kamara is out

Murray was third on this last season, but he's now 31 years old and no longer benefits from the presence of Drew Brees. Kamara didn't miss any action last season, so Murray didn't play more than half of New Orleans' snaps in a single game, but we saw his insurance appeal back in 2019. Murray was fantasy's top-scoring RB thanks to 307 yards and four TDs on 60 touches during the weeks the Kamara was out. With Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington his top competition for touches, Murray would still have value in the event of a Kamara injury - just not as much as in year's past.

10. Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - RB2 if Leonard Fournette is out

Jones has a role in the Tampa Bay offense, but with Fournette and Giovani Bernard also factors, it's not a role that will allow standalone fantasy value. That would change if Fournette were out of the mix. We caught a glimpse of it last season during the four games Fournette was sidelined. Jones played 64% of the snaps, averaged 19.5 carries and 4.8 targets per game and was fantasy's No. 4 RB. So why isn't Jones higher on this list? Tampa Bay added Bernard during the offseason and the veteran back is going to play a major role in passing situations even when Jones and Fournette are both healthy.

11. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions - RB2 if D'Andre Swift is out

Williams was busier than you probably realize during his four seasons in Green Bay (125.0 carries and 38.3 targets per season) and figures to play a similar role while working as a change-of-pace back behind Swift in Detroit. Williams very well could see enough work to flirt with flex value in deep PPR leagues even with a healthy Swift, and should Swift miss time, Williams likely wouldn't leave the field often. His top competition for touches? Seventh-round pick Jermar Johnson.

12. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens - RB2 if J.K. Dobbins is out

This may seem low for a back who sits second in the NFL in yards per carry (5.2) since he entered the league in 2018, but Baltimore has shown a commitment to utilizing a backfield committee and Edwards isn't a factor in the passing game. Edwards has played a pretty defined role (he's been between 133 and 144 carries all three seasons and has 18 career receptions) and, other than a boost in carries, that wouldn't change a ton if Dobbins were to miss time. Instead, we would expect Justice Hill to handle change-of-pace and pass-catching duties, with Edwards ticketed for a majority of the carries and goal line work. It's just enough for back-end RB2 production.

13. J.D. McKissic, Washington - Flex if Antonio Gibson is out

Gibson missed two full games (and all but four snaps another week) last season and McKissic was fantasy's No. 8 RB those three weeks. He racked up 144 yards and one TD on 23 targets and 127 yards on 29 carries while playing 76% of the snaps. He'd defer work (including a hefty chunk of carries) to Peyton Barber and perhaps Lamar Miller this season, but his passing-game role would launch McKissic into the RB2 discussion.

14. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills - Flex if Zack Moss is out

Moss may enter 2021 with a slight leg up on Singletary, but it's very likely that Buffalo will again utilize a two-headed backfield attack. Of course, should one of the two recent third-round picks go down with an injury, the other would vault into weekly fantasy lineups. We got a taste of that last season. During the five games Moss was out, Singletary played 74% of the snaps and handled 11.0 carries and 3.6 targets per game. That's compared to 53% of the snaps and 8.4 carries/3.1 targets per game during the 14 games both were active. That's not as much of an increase as we'd like, but it's enough to flirt with RB2 numbers in a high-scoring offense. Matt Breida is next up on the depth chart.

15. Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs - Flex if Clyde Edwards-Helaire is out

Williams is positioned as the No. 2 back in Kansas City after the team's only notable offseason move at RB was replacing Le'Veon Bell with 29-year-old Jerick McKinnon. In three full games in place of Edwards-Helaire last season, Williams played 66% of the snaps and handled 9.7 carries and 4.0 targets per game. His numbers were far from impressive (210 yards and 0 TDs on 38 touches), but we obviously can't ignore the lead back in arguably the NFL's best offense. Williams would surely defer some work to McKinnon and perhaps Darwin Thompson, but he'd see enough work for flex consideration.

16. Devontae Booker, New York Giants - Flex if Saquon Barkley is out

Booker signed with the Giants after flashing behind Josh Jacobs in Las Vegas last season. Booker would step into a sizable role in place of an injured Barkley, with sixth-round rookie Gary Brightwell and Corey Clement making for underwhelming competition.

17. Damien Williams, Chicago Bears - Flex if David Montgomery is out.

Williams quietly signed with Chicago after opting out of the 2020 season. The 225-pound back would step into most of Montgomery's workload, though Tarik Cohen would remain heavily involved, especially in passing situations. Cohen would be the better fantasy option, but Williams would figure to be close behind.

18. Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers - Flex if Raheem Mostert is out

Sermon is a popular sleeper pick, but RBs picked after Round 1 have a shaky rookie-season resume and we know San Francisco has tended to play musical chairs at the position. Sermon would be a must add if Mostert misses time, but it's very possible Wayne Gallman (or perhaps Elijah Mitchell or JaMycal Hasty) leads the backfield.

19. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts - Flex if Jonathan Taylor is out

This is going to seem way too low for Mack, but he missed all of 2020 and has not been a good fantasy back even when atop the depth chart. Mack was top-10 in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs during his last full season in 2019, but was held to 14 receptions and failed to manage his first top-20 fantasy campaign. Even if Taylor is out, Mack would share with Nyheim Hines and perhaps Jordan Wilkins, which would limit him to flex territory.

20. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks - Add to bench if Chris Carson is out

Penny has flashed since being drafted in the first round back in 2018, but injuries have limited him to 161 carries and 33 targets in 27 career games. Though he has potential for a big role if Carson were to miss time, he'd need to fend off the likes of DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer and perhaps Alex Collins. A committee attack makes sense.

21. Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins - Add to bench if Myles Gaskin is out

Ahmed filled in for Gaskin in four games last season. The then-rookie played 63% of the snaps and averaged 15.8 carries and 2.5 targets per game. He was fantasy's No. 9 RB those weeks thanks to 329 yards and a pair of TDs. Miami signed Malcom Brown during the offseason, so he'd likely team up with Ahmed in the event of a Gaskin injury, though Ahmed would be the preferred flex option.

22. Sony Michel, New England Patriots - Flex if Damien Harris is out

The New England backfield is crowded as usual and that wouldn't change if Harris were to go down. Michel (assuming he makes the team) would figure to handle most of the carries, leaving passing-down work to James White. There would also be a role for fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson and perhaps even a touch or three for J.J. Taylor.

23. Michael Carter, New York Jets - Flex if Tevin Coleman is out

Carter is being drafted way too early in season-long and rookie drafts this offseason, as many expect him to lead a shaky Jets' backfield. Perhaps he will, but the history of Day 3 rookie backs suggests otherwise. Carter would obviously benefit if Coleman (the likely Week 1 starter) misses time, though a committee with La'Mical Perine and Ty Johnson (perhaps among others) is a near lock.

24. Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans - Flex if Derrick Henry is out

Evans landed in a very insurance-friendly spot when he was drafted in the third round last season, but he went on to play only 34 snaps as Henry held up for all 17 games. Evans projects as a change-of-pace/receiving specialist in the pros, so while he could flirt with flex numbers in PPR, he'd certainly share snaps and carries with Brian Hill and Jeremy McNichols.

25. Kerryon Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles - Flex if Miles Sanders is out

The Eagles' RB depth chart is wide open behind Sanders, with Johnson competing with fifth-round rookie Kenneth Gainwell and veterans Boston Scott and Jordan Howard. A committee is very likely if Sanders goes down, though Johnson, who is still only 24 years old, is the most appealing name of the bunch.

26. Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers - Add to bench if Christian McCaffrey is out

Hubbard is a fourth-round rookie, so expectations need to be kept in check here. That said, we saw journeyman Mike Davis deliver RB1 numbers in place of an injured McCaffrey last season and he's now in Atlanta. Hubbard would compete with the likes of Rodney Smith and Reggie Bonnafon for work in this scenario and would have a shot at a sizable role.

27. Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans - Add to bench if David Johnson is out

Houston added Lindsay, Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead to the depth chart behind Johnson during the offseason. A three-headed committee is the likely gameplan in the event of a Johnson injury. Lindsay's explosiveness makes him the most appealing fantasy option, but he'd likely max out as a flex.

28. Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals - Add to bench if Joe Mixon is out

Perine played 32% of the snaps during the 10 games Mixon missed last season, averaging 6.2 carries and 1.2 targets per game. He managed two top-30 fantasy weeks. Giovani Bernard is out of the picture, but feature back duties for Perine is a longshot. Trayvon Williams and sixth-round rookie Chris Evans would also be mixed in.

29. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers - Add to bench if Austin Ekeler is out

Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Kalen Ballage (now with Pittsburgh) handled most of the work in place of an injured Ekeler last season. Jackson was 26th at RB in fantasy points during four games he played an Ekeler was out/limited, whereas Kelley sat 54th while averaging a horrific 2.4 YPC in seven games sans Ekeler. Jackson is the preferred flex target if Ekeler misses time and sixth-round rookie Larry Rountree III is worth monitoring.

30. Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers - Add to bench if Najee Harris is out


The Pittsburgh offense provides plenty of value to the RB position, but the problem is that the depth chart is very unclear behind Harris. Last season, Snell was the first man up when James Conner was out. During those three games, Snell played 65% of the snaps and racked up 210 yards and one TD on 50 touches. He was 22nd at RB in fantasy points. If Harris goes down, Snell could return to lead back duties, but it's likely that second-year Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Samuels and/or Ballage will be involved.

31. Javian Hawkins, Atlanta Falcons - Add to bench if Mike Davis is out

Atlanta did not prioritize the RB position during the offseason, which left them with a 28-year-old journeyman (Davis) atop the depth chart and a bunch of unknowns behind him. Undrafted Hawkins would likely get an extended look if Davis goes down, though 228-pound Qadree Ollison and receiving-specialist Cordarrelle Patterson are also in the mix.

32. Xavier Jones, Los Angeles Rams - Add to bench if Darrell Henderson Jr. is out

Henderson is this year's first example of the value of stashing insurance backs, as Cam Akers' torn Achilles has launched him from late-round pick to RB2 status. With Henderson now the only back on the active roster who has played an NFL snap, the Rams' backfield depth is very shaky and their insurance situation muddy. If Henderson is out, the likes of Jones, Raymond Calais and seventh-round rookie Jake Funk would battle for touches. It's very possible the Rams add a veteran back at some point so this is a situation to avoid in all but the deepest of leagues.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football: 15 players who could be this season's breakout stars​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

It's one of the questions I get asked most often during the offseason.

"Who is this year's ______?"

It's not a simple question to answer because no two scenarios are exactly alike. But there are obviously comparable players in similar situations. And, if the people want comparisons, comparisons they shall have.

The process here was simple: I jotted down each of 2020's top breakout players and came up with a short list of players who fit a similar pedigree as they enter 2021. Below is analysis of each player who best fits the bill, as well as the other players who landed on the short list.

Note that this is not my way of predicting that these players will definitely break out this season. Again, it's simply the players positioned to do as a product of landing in a similar situation to those players who exploded onto the fantasy scene last season.

This season's David Montgomery: Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Montgomery was a post-hype RB who enjoyed a breakout season.

Montgomery was the recommended post-hype RB target in this piece one year ago and, thanks in part to a Tarik Cohen injury and an extremely easy schedule, he delivered the goods. Edwards-Helaire is actually better positioned for a breakout than Montgomery, as the 2020 first-round pick has less competition (Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon) and is operating as the clear feature back in an elite Kansas City offense. "CEH" disappointed with only two top-10 fantasy weeks in 13 outings last season, but dealt with injuries and bad touchdown luck. Behind an overhauled and improved offensive line, Edwards-Helaire could be a major value in Round 2/3 of 2021 drafts.

Other candidates: Zack Moss, Ronald Jones II, AJ Dillon, Darrell Henderson Jr.


This season's J.K. Dobbins/Cam Akers/Jonathan Taylor/Antonio Gibson/D'Andre Swift: Javonte Williams and Travis Etienne Jr.

These five 2020 rookie running backs came out of the gates slowly (to varying degrees) before eventually leaping onto the fantasy radar.

Slow starts are common for rookie backs -- especially those not selected in the early first round -- so last year's results were far from a surprise. Whereas Pittsburgh rookie Najee Harris is positioned for a feature back role right out of the gate, Williams and Etienne appear destined for committee work early on. Williams will need to fend off veteran and likely early-season starter Melvin Gordon III for touches, whereas Etienne will defer a hefty chunk of carries to James Robinson and perhaps a few to Carlos Hyde. It may take a month or so, but both young backs are likely to take on a larger workload as the season progresses and, if things go as expected, should eventually emerge into weekly RB2 options.

Other candidates: Trey Sermon, Michael Carter


This season's James Robinson: Javian Hawkins

Robinson was an undrafted rookie who quickly became a weekly lineup lock.

OK, this one is borderline impossible, but I know you're wondering, so I'll address it. The fact is, we may not see another James Robinson for, say, 20 years. Does that seem like an exaggeration? It isn't, as evidenced by the fact that Robinson is the only undrafted free agent (UDFA) to finish as a top-12 fantasy RB in more than 20 years. In fact, only three UDFAs have even managed a top-25 campaign during the span (Phillip Lindsay 2018, Dominic Rhodes 2001). Granted it's a long shot, but in the spirit of limiting myself to one "None" per article (still to come), I went with Falcons' UDFA Hawkins as the most likely to follow in Robinson's footsteps. Hawkins doesn't exactly profile as a feature back, and actually Lindsay might be the better comp here, as he's undersized, quick and explosive but not a strong bet for much between-the-tackles work. The reason he makes the list here is pretty simple: opportunity. Atlanta's lead back is 28-year-old and longtime reserve Mike Davis and the team's top backups are Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James. It's obviously unlikely, but if Hawkins shows well in camp (as Robinson did) and during the preseason, he has a path to a big rookie-season role. Keep his name on your radar.

Other candidates: Jaret Patterson (UDFA), Gerrid Doaks (seventh round), Jermar Jefferson (seventh round), Jake Funk (seventh round)


This season's Mike Davis: Devontae Booker

Davis was an overlooked veteran insurance back who leaped to RB1 status.

This is another tough once since it relies on injury, but there are a few overlooked insurance backs worth keeping your eye on. Remember, Davis was released by Chicago in 2019 and entered last season competing for a backup job. All it took was a Christian McCaffrey injury and Davis was vaulted into the weekly RB1 mix. Booker is in a similar situation as the direct and clear backup to Saquon Barkley. If Barkley has a setback during his recovery from last season's knee injury or misses additional time, Booker very well could push for 15-plus touches per game (a mark he reached twice in Las Vegas last season). Booker busted in Denver and is now 29 years old, but similar to Davis, he's one injury away from major fantasy value. For more on the topic, check out my complete 1-to-32 ranking of 2021 insurance RBs.

Other candidates: Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, Phillip Lindsay


This season's Myles Gaskin: Ty Johnson

Gaskin was a young, low-pedigree back who leaped to RB2 status by emerging in a messy backfield.

Gaskin was overlooked big-time last season after Miami added presumed lead backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida during the offseason. Similarly, Jets' incumbent RBs Johnson and 2020 fourth-round pick La'Mical Perine aren't getting much attention after the Jets signed Tevin Coleman and drafted Michael Carter in the fourth round. Considering how little Coleman did in San Francisco and the low hit rate of Day 3 backs, it wouldn't be a surprise if Johnson -- a 2019 sixth-round pick by Detroit -- plays a big early-season role. Johnson has appeared in 29 games and has shown well, racking up 527 yards on 117 carries (4.50 YPC), while also chipping in as a receiver (208 yards on 53 targets). Johnson has already generated some offseason buzz and is, at the very least, a name to keep on your watch list. The same goes for Perine.

Other candidates: Wayne Gallman II, Qadree Ollison, J.J. Taylor, Darius Bradwell, Antonio Williams, Xavier Jones


This season's Kyler Murray: Justin Herbert

Murray emerged into a top-end QB1 in his second NFL season.

Murray made the leap from QB8 as a rookie to QB3 last season, whereas Herbert was QB9 during an impressive rookie campaign in which he didn't even play in Week 1. Herbert benefited from an extremely high-volume offense (the Chargers' 1,125 offensive snaps was the league's eighth-highest mark over the past decade) and will have a new coaching staff in 2021. The scheme change could limit Herbert's volume, but he can overcome it with a step forward in play (as expected for a second-year QB) and continued production with his legs (234 yards, five TDs last season). The 23-year-old has a ton of upside.

Other candidates: Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts


This season's Justin Herbert: Trevor Lawrence

Herbert was a fantasy QB1 as a rookie.

So if Herbert is this year's Murray, who is this year's Herbert? Though there are several appealing rookie QBs, Lawrence is the obvious pick. The first-overall pick back in April, Lawrence will be the Week 1 starter for a Jacksonville offense loaded with talented targets, including DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr., Marvin Jones Jr., Travis Etienne and James Robinson. Over the past decade, eight rookie QBs have finished better than 15th in fantasy points. Six were early-first-round picks and all eight were productive with their legs, with each adding at least 213 rushing yards (442.3 average) and four TDs (6.4 average). Lawrence is more than capable with his legs, having run for 943 yards and 18 TDs on 231 carries (43 were sacks, 46 were scrambles) during three seasons at Clemson. Lawrence is best valued as a QB2, but don't be surprised if he flirts with QB1 numbers.

Other candidates: Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields


This season's Stefon Diggs: Kenny Golladay

Diggs was a polarizing veteran who changed teams during the offseason before exploding into a WR1.

Prior to last season, Diggs was valued as a WR3 by most after never appearing in a 16-game regular season or finishing higher than 10th at WR in fantasy points. Similarly, Golladay (who is one month older than Diggs), has managed only one 16-game season, has never finished a season higher than ninth in fantasy points, moved from the Lions to the Giants during the offseason and is being drafted as a WR3. Golladay's stock is down after he appeared in only four full games due to injury last season, but he was productive when active, managing at least 14.5 fantasy points in all four outings. If Daniel Jones can make a leap forward (similar to the leap Josh Allen made with Diggs in the mix in Buffalo), Golladay could easily return to the WR1 discussion.

Other candidates: Corey Davis, Curtis Samuel, Nelson Agholor


This season's Calvin Ridley: Terry McLaurin

Ridley exploded into a weekly WR1 in his third NFL season.

Year 3 used to be the breakout age for WRs. We're impatient these days, but there are still some high-end talents who need a few years before emerging into a fantasy star. Ridley posted fantasy finishes of 22nd and 27th before exploding to fifth last season. McLaurin finished 29th and 20th in his first two seasons and is well positioned for another big leap in Year 3. The biggest boost in his outlook comes via a quarterback upgrade from Dwayne Haskins (96 of his career targets), Alex Smith (51), Case Keenum (41), Kyle Allen (27) and Colt McCoy (seven) to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Assuming the more-aggressive Fitzpatrick pushes the ball down field more often than we've seen from Washington recently, the speedy McLaurin "F1" will have plenty more opportunities for big plays, especially if he sustains last season's 25% target share.

Other candidates: Diontae Johnson, Deebo Samuel


This season's Justin Jefferson: None

Jefferson emerged as a WR1 in his rookie season.

Three WRs picked in the top 10 and I go with the boring "None" answer? The humanity! Here's the thing, though: history tells us that rookies are extreme long shots to reach WR1 status. Consider that Jefferson is one of only four rookie WRs to finish top 12 in fantasy points over the past 20 years (Anquan Boldin, Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr. were the others). Oddly enough, none of those four were top-10 overall picks. Of course, while they may not reach WR1 status, all three rookies do have a good shot at Year 1 fantasy relevance. Over the past decade, six wide receivers have been picked in the top 10 and went on to appear in at least 13 games. All six were top 30 in fantasy points and two cracked the top 20 (Mike Evans, A.J. Green). Chase, Smith and Waddle should be on your radar as WR3/flex options with WR2 upside.

Other candidates: Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle


This season's CeeDee Lamb/Brandon Aiyuk/Tee Higgins/Chase Claypool: Elijah Moore

Lamb, Aiyuk, Higgins and Claypool emerged as weekly fantasy starters as rookies.

Jefferson was the main man, but he wasn't the only fantasy-relevant rookie last season. Lamb (22nd), Claypool (23rd), Higgins (28th) and Aiyuk (35th) all had their ups and downs, but each was top 35 in fantasy points by season's end. Including Jefferson, those five wideouts made up nearly half of the 11 WRs picks in the first 50 picks of the draft. In the 2021 draft, 10 WRs were selected in the first two rounds, including seven in the top 50. Of those selections, Moore has generated the most hype this offseason and appears ticketed for a major role right out of the gate. Granted he's dealing with plenty of veteran competition and a rookie QB, but you could've said one or both of those things about Lamb, Higgins and Claypool last season. Rookie receivers picked on Day 1 or 2 should always be on your radar late in your draft.

Other candidates: Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., Kadarius Toney, D'Wayne Eskridge


This season's T.J. Hockenson/Noah Fant: Adam Trautman and Cole Kmet

Hockenson and Fant both emerged as TE1s in their second NFL season.

Hockenson and Fant were both first-round picks, whereas Kmet and Trautman were Day 2 selections, but it's fair to say the two second-year tight ends are positioned for a big leap this season. Kmet (the first tight end selected in the 2020 draft) wasn't a fantasy factor as a rookie, but he did get a big promotion in the second half of the season, playing 88% of the snaps and handling a 17% target share (5.7 per game) during his final six games. He could rise as high as second in line for targets in Chicago this season. Trautman was a third-round pick last season and is now atop the New Orleans depth chart following the offseason departures of Jared Cook and Josh Hill. The Saints have major depth issues behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, so Trautman could rise as high as third in line for targets. Both young tight ends should be on your radar late in drafts.

Other candidates: Brycen Hopkins, Harrison Bryant, Colby Parkinson


This season's Logan Thomas/Robert Tonyan: Anthony Firkser

Thomas and Tonyan were "late breakout" veteran tight ends who posted a TE1 campaign.

The Titans acquired another potential target hog in Julio Jones during the offseason, but they also watched Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Jonnu Smith depart via free agency. The latter is, of course, most notable, as Firkser is the next man up at tight end with Smith out the door. We got a tease of this scenario last season when Smith left injured in Week 6 and then was out in Week 13. Firkser posted an 8-113-1 receiving line on nine targets in Week 6 and then a 5-51-0 line on seven targets in Week 13. Tennessee is a run-first offense with an elite WR duo, but this is also a unit that is tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns over the past two seasons (seriously). Firkser is available late in drafts and certainly sports TE1 upside.

Other candidates: Blake Jarwin, C.J. Uzomah, Dan Arnold, Jacob Hollister, Kahale Warring, Donald Parham Jr., Mo Alie-Cox, Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Will Dissly, O.J. Howard (I know. This is way too many names, but there are a lot of intriguing candidates for this designation).


This season's Darren Waller: Logan Thomas


Waller was a 2019 breakout who was underrated in 2020 drafts after his team added competition for targets.

Waller was one of the best values in drafts last season after the Raiders added Nelson Agholor and rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards at wide receiver. Similarly, Thomas is being knocked after Washington signed Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and drafted Dyami Brown. Thomas is fantasy's reigning No. 3 wide receiver, but often can be had in the ninth round of 12-team leagues. That is a major steal for a variety of reasons, which I laid out at length in this piece.

Other candidates: Eric Ebron, Mike Gesicki, Evan Engram
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Matthew Stafford impact, RB battles among top NFC West storylines to watch​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

NFC West​

Key fantasy offseason movement​

• Two franchises made major quarterback moves, one young and one not so young. The Los Angeles Rams did not even wait for the Super Bowl, sending Jared Goff and multiple first-round picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford in late January. From a fantasy perspective, this may not seem like a big deal. Stafford averaged 16.3 PPR points per game a season ago, while Goff settled in at 16.0. Then again, Stafford now gets to play with a better team, which is why he ranks so much better than Goff in fantasy.



• The San Francisco 49ers also tired of their veteran signal-caller, but Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the squad, even as Trey Lance is the future. The 49ers traded several future first-round selections to move way up in the 2021 first round to draft the North Dakota State product, who dominated during the 2019 season, but played only one game last season. Lance rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in his magical season, which ended with a FCS title, and most believe he will thrive in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Will he start right away?

• Two of the active leaders in receiving yards found new homes in the division, as longtime Cincinnati Bengals star A.J. Green signed on with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Rams added DeSean Jackson. In each case, it is easy to be skeptical either move will bear significant statistical fruit. Green, 32, missed the 2019 season with injuries, and averaged a mere 5 yards per target over 16 games last season, catching 47 passes. Jackson, 34, played in eight games for the Philadelphia Eagles over the past two seasons, catching 23 passes. These fellows seem like little threat to DeAndre Hopkins and Robert Woods/Cooper Kupp, and fantasy managers should look elsewhere for receiving depth.

Something to prove​

• Running backs are another story in the NFC West, as the Rams lost pending star Cam Akers to a torn Achilles, leaving Darrell Henderson Jr. with a great opportunity to break out. Henderson, entering his third NFL season, has struggled to stay healthy but he played well early last season until injury and Akers got in the way. He could be a star. The Rams could turn to Xavier Jones or a number of other young players, or sign a veteran free agent such as former Rams great Todd Gurley. Anything is possible here.

• The Cardinals added former Pittsburgh Steelers starter James Conner to replace Kenyan Drake. Conner scored 13 touchdowns during the 2018 season ... and scored 13 in the two seasons since then. The physical Conner thrives on breaking tackles but, not surprisingly, he has also struggled to stay on the field. The Cardinals figure to employ some degree of a time-share between Conner and the smaller Chase Edmonds, who is a skilled receiver waiting for a chance at regular three-down duties. Fantasy managers seem eager to see what Edmonds can do with full-time work.

• While Lance's career will define whether the 49ers had a good or bad draft, they also invested in Ohio State running back Trey Sermon in the third round, creating a potential time-share with brittle veteran Raheem Mostert and newcomer Wayne Gallman, the former New York Giants runner. It is crowded, and Shanahan generally likes to share the duties among running backs. The speedy Mostert missed half of the 2020 season with knee issues, but he has averaged 5.4 yards per carry over the past two seasons, as well.


• The 49ers could also use some health with other offensive stars, as tight end George Kittle missed half of the 2020 campaign with knee and foot woes, and promising wide receiver Deebo Samuel scored one touchdown over seven games. The 49ers could be awesome on offense if their stars stay healthy. Kittle seems like someone always trying to prove himself.

Whose fantasy stock may fluctuate?​

• And finally we get to the Seattle Seahawks, who were relatively quiet this offseason, mainly focused on pleasing franchise quarterback Russell Wilson. Perhaps replacing Brian Scottenheimer with Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator will add tempo to the offense and aid Wilson's playmakers. Wilson and wide receiver DK Metcalf are fantasy stars, but running back Chris Carson and receiver Tyler Lockett seem underrated in the fantasy world, and may move up in drafts in August.

• After finishing second to Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson among quarterbacks in rushing yards, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray intends to run less this season, and that surely would affect his fantasy value. Murray led the team with 11 rushing touchdowns, and was second to Drake with 819 rushing yards. If his rushing output is more on par with his rookie season -- when he had 40 fewer carries and seven fewer rushing TDs -- Murray may not be a top-five fantasy quarterback.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Raiders' backfield, Broncos' offense among top AFC West storylines to watch​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

AFC West​

Key fantasy offseason movement​

• The Las Vegas Raiders made some rather odd additions at skill positions. Despite enjoying two solid seasons from 2019 first-round pick Josh Jacobs, the Raiders decided to give former Arizona Cardinals starter Kenyan Drake a two-year contract. It may make for a messy time-share since each player is of rather similar size and skill. Enticing wide receiver Henry Ruggs III figures to break out in his second season, although he, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow now have to fight for targets with veterans John Brown and Willie Snead IV. The Raiders have more depth on offense, yes, but myriad other needs as well.



• The Denver Broncos parted ways with Phillip Lindsay and added to their running back group by using a second-round pick on North Carolina's Javonte Williams, and it would hardly be surprising if he surpassed veteran Melvin Gordon III at some juncture early in the season. Gordon's first season in Denver went fine, as only 13 running backs scored more PPR points, but Williams certainly offers more upside. It should be a fascinating camp battle.

Blessed with excellent, young quarterbacks, the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs and rising Los Angeles Chargers focused on offensive line help, which of course can aid fantasy managers as well. We want Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert properly protected, and their running backs to find ample space to run. The Chiefs traded for former Baltimore Ravens tackle Orlando Brown and welcome guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back after he opted out of the 2020 season, among other moves. The Chargers added Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler and drafted large Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater.

Something to prove​

• A mere two Chiefs reached 50 receptions last season, and fantasy managers know all about tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. They may be first-round choices in your leagues. Will any other Chiefs receivers be on your mind? Underachiever Sammy Watkins left for the Baltimore Ravens and the Chiefs figure to rely on Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle, for now. At running back, newcomer Jerick McKinnon (remember him?) hopes to push sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Mahomes may throw for 5,000 yards again, so fantasy managers seem justified to speculate about other catching options this season.

• Few would say the Denver Broncos' passing game thrived last season, and few would say acquiring quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from the Carolina Panthers alters the trajectory much. Still, incumbent starter Drew Lock is hardly a lock to start. If only the Broncos could trade for a future Hall of Fame quarterback that calls Wisconsin his fall home. Of course, health and maturity among the Denver wide receiver corps would probably help everyone. Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler were high draft picks in 2020 and should greatly improve. Courtland Sutton was a star in 2019 before tearing his knee in the first week of 2020.

• Chargers running back Austin Ekeler missed six games in 2020 with lower-body injuries, and while few expected him to match his fantastic 2019 numbers, when he was among the top three running backs in PPR scoring, he still averaged 16.5 PPR points per game. Armed with a massive contract and little competition in the Chargers' backfield, Ekeler and fantasy managers would obviously prefer his 2019 production.

Whose fantasy stock may fluctuate?​

• Numerous situations in Denver bear watching. Many rookies explode up draft boards in August after something as mild as a coach quote, and Javonte Williams may be that player in this division. Health for Sutton would also be a big deal, since many fantasy managers likely forgot he surpassed 1,100 receiving yards two seasons ago. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues, in which every starting quarterback matters, also need to see who starts in Denver.

• Ekeler and Edwards-Helaire are certainly proficient pass-catchers, but other running backs could push for sharing the early-down work in those offenses. Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley vie for this role on the Chargers. Jackson was the more efficient runner in 2020, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Chiefs, who gave current free agent Le'Veon Bell the second-most rushing attempts last season, brought in McKinnon, who returned in 2020 after missing consecutive seasons with knee injuries. McKinnon scored touchdowns in each of the first four games for the San Francisco 49ers last season. Darrel Williams also remains a Chief from last season.

• The AFC West already features two of the top three tight ends in the sport with Kelce and Raiders star Darren Waller, but what about the other two teams? Denver's Noah Fant scored touchdowns in each of the first two weeks of the 2020 season, looking like a fantasy star, then sprained an ankle and succumbed to the team's quarterback play. He may be a fantasy starter, however. The Chargers let Hunter Henry go and replaced him with productive journeyman Jared Cook, a top-10 fantasy tight end in both 2018 and 2019. Few seem to expect it, but Cook may return to that level in L.A.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Clyde Edwards-Helaire among players who will score more TDs in 2021​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Football statistics are extremely hard to predict, but history continues to show that projecting touchdown regression to the mean is significantly easier than you might imagine.

During the 2009 to 2019 seasons, there were 129 instances in which a wide receiver or tight end scored fewer than five touchdowns on 50-plus offensive touches before managing at least 50 touches the very next season. Of those 129 instances, 94 (72.9%) scored more touchdowns the next season.

Focusing on the 41 players in that group who scored fewer than three touchdowns during the first season, 32 (78.0%) scored more touchdowns the next season. Of the 14 who scored either one or zero touchdowns, 11 (78.6%) found the end zone more often the next season. Jason Avant (2010-11 and 2011-12) and Danny Amendola (2018-19) were responsible for the three exceptions.



A hefty 25 WR/TEs scored fewer than five TDs on 50-plus touches last season, and notables with fewer than three scores included George Kittle, Evan Engram and Jakobi Meyers. We see similar results if we run this test on running backs. There are 52 instances in which a back failed to eclipse seven touchdowns on 200-plus touches before managing 200 again the next season. Of those 52 instances, 42 (or 80.1%) scored more touchdowns the next season. Interestingly, there were four backs who failed to reach four touchdowns in the first season but each scored at least six times the next season. The average second-year touchdown total was 8.5!

In 2020, Frank Gore (2 TDs on 203 touches), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (5 TDs on 217 touches), and James Conner (6 TDs on 204 touches) were notable TD underperformers on 200-plus touches at RB.

If you skipped all that, or just tuned out while scanning over the math, the point here is simple: NFL players tend to bounce back -- often in a big way -- when they post an unusually low touchdown number and see similar playing time the following season.

In this piece, I'll be referencing OTD, which is a statistic that weighs every carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player's scoring opportunity. Put another way, it's how many touchdowns a league-average player would've scored with the exact same opportunity as the player shown.

A careful examination of each of the below player's 2020 usage tells us we should expect an increase in scoring production this season. Be sure to also check out the list of players who will score fewer touchdowns this season (publishing later this week). Note that this study is limited to regular-season rushing and receiving data.


i

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs | 2020 TDs: 5 | 2021 projected TDs: 10

"CEH" was one of fantasy's biggest busts relative to ADP last season and a lack of TDs were partially to blame. Every back who touched the ball at least 205 times scored at least eight TDs last season ... except CEH, who scored five on 217 touches. The 2020 first-round pick (in fantasy and reality) is proof that landing with a great offense isn't a free pass to the end zone, but he's also a strong candidate for a massive rebound in his second season.

i

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys | 2020 TDs: 8 | 2021 projected TDs: 12

Elliott ranked fifth in the NFL in touches and tied for first in carries inside the 5-yard line last season, which helped him to an expected TD total of 13.2 (fourth highest). Despite the generous usage, Elliott was held to a career-low eight TDs. Elliott has ranked top five at RB in snaps, carries, touches and routes each of the past three seasons and is likely to find the end zone significantly more often in 2021.

i

Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams | 2020 TDs: 6 | 2021 projected TDs: 11

This would've been Cam Akers, but the second-year back tore his Achilles, which promotes Henderson to lead duties. Like Akers, Henderson was unlucky in the TD department last season, scoring six times despite a 7.8 OTD. He ranked 34th at running back in touches, but 16th in carries inside the 5 (nine). Henderson is now the lead back in a Sean McVay offense that ranks third in rush TDs (79) and second in carries inside the 5-yard line (99) during his four seasons with the team.

i

Robby Anderson, WR, Carolina Panthers | 2020 TDs: 3 | 2021 projected TDs: 5

Anderson finished eighth at WR in targets and receptions, but 60th -- yes, 60th -- in touchdowns. He easily hit career-high marks in targets (136), receptions (95) and yardage (1,096), but was limited to seven end zone targets and three scores, both of which were his lowest totals since 2016. Even in his role as a short-range target, we should expect more touchdowns in Anderson's future.

i

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants | 2020 TDs: 2 | 2021 projected TDs: 4

Sixty players handled 85-plus targets last season. Engram was the only one of them who didn't catch at least two TDs (0.9% TD rate). Engram ranked top five at TE in targets (110) and receptions (63), but caught one TD and ran for another on one of six carries. Engram isn't used much near the goal line (seven TDs and nine end zone targets over the past three seasons), so while we should expect some regression to the mean, don't expect a huge boost.

i

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints | 2020 TDs: 0 | 2021 projected TDs: 5 (11.5 games)

Thomas' 2020 season was obviously disappointing, but did you realize he failed to score a single touchdown? Yes, he missed nine games, but he was also unlucky in the scoring department when active. Thomas, who scored exactly nine TDs in three of his first four NFL seasons, is sure to see more than the career-low two end zone targets he saw in 2020 this upcoming season. Thomas is expected to miss a few games to open the season and no longer has Drew Brees throwing him passes, but we can still expect the veteran receiver to land closer to his career output in the scoring department.

i

Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers | 2020 TDs: 3 | 2021 projected TDs: 7

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Ekeler hasn't been a consistent TD scorer throughout his career, but he was still below expectations last season. During nine weeks in which he played in full, Ekeler ranked fourth in the NFL in touches (167), but 74th in touchdowns. Granted he handled only two carries inside the 5 and his expected TD total (4.3) wasn't egregiously higher than his actual total, but note that Ekeler did exceed his expected total during each of his first three NFL seasons. That included 11 scores (8.2 expected) in 2019. The 26-year-old is primed for a boost in scoring rate in 2021.

i

Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots | 2020 TDs: 0 | 2021 projected TDs: 3

Meyers had the unfortunate distinction of leading the NFL in targets (82) among players without a single TD catch last season. Meyers, who did throw two touchdowns, saw only three end zone targets in the Cam Newton-led, run-heavy scheme. Meyers is entering his third NFL season and has yet to catch a touchdown on 122 career targets (3.8). While he may never be a high-end TD scorer, his fortunes will change in 2021 if he sustains a consistent offensive role.

i

Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos | 2020 TDs: 3 | 2021 projected TDs: 5

Jeudy's rookie season wasn't overly inspiring, so it may surprise you to know that he ranked 21st at wide receiver with 112 targets. Eight drops (second most) and a 46% catch rate (second worst) led to poor efficiency and fantasy production, but the good news is that the Alabama product was busier than it may have seemed near the goal line. He registered eight end zone targets and his 4.3 OTD suggests he should've had an extra score or two. Expect a Year 2 leap.

i

George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers | 2020 TDs: 2 | 2021 projected TDs: 6


Kittle is a very interesting one, as he has history working in his favor (as noted in the introduction to the column), but usage working against him. Despite a generous target share, Kittle has yet to clear seven end zone targets, a 5.8 OTD or five TDs in a single season. The soon-to-be 28-year-old scored only twice last season, which was actually above his expected mark of 1.3. That was thanks, in part, to only one end zone target in eight games. Nonetheless, Kittle's overall target volume and post-catch dominance (he's never finished lower than seventh in RAC) is sure to lead to a boost in touchdowns.

Others: Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles; Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills; A.J. Green, WR, Arizona Cardinals; Jordan Akins, TE, Houston Texans; Myles Gaskin, RB, Miami Dolphins; Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets; James Conner, RB, Arizona Cardinals
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Alvin Kamara among players who will score fewer TDs in 2021​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Football statistics can prove hard to predict, but history continues to show that projecting touchdown regression to the mean is significantly easier than you might imagine.

The 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 versions of this article provide overwhelming evidence.

Note that this study is limited to regular-season rushing and receiving data.



2016​

PLAYER2015 TD2016 PROJECTED TD2016 ACTUAL TD
Doug Baldwin1477
Allen Robinson II1486
Ted Ginn Jr.1034
Tavon Austin944
Kirk Cousins524
Tyler Eifert136 (13 games)5 (8 games)
Allen Hurns1063 (11 games)
Karlos Williams92DNP

2017​

PLAYER2016 TD2017 PROJECTED TD2017 ACTUAL TD
Kenny Stills956
Davante Adams12810
Jordy Nelson14106
LeGarrette Blount1883
Tevin Coleman1178
Tyreek Hill9 (+3 return)5 (+1 return)7 (+1 return)
Ezekiel Elliott16149 (10 games)
LeSean McCoy1498
Taylor Gabriel741
Sterling Shepard852 (11 games)
Antonio Brown1289
David Johnson20160 (1 game)
Jamison Crowder743
Robert Turbin841 (6 games)
Rishard Matthews954
Latavius Murray1248

2018​

PLAYER2017 TD2018 PROJECTED TD2018 ACTUAL TD
DeAndre Hopkins13911
Jimmy Graham1082
Alvin Kamara131118
Todd Gurley II191321
Tyler Kroft720 (5 games)
Alshon Jeffery986
Sammy Watkins853
Dion Lewis952
Chris Thompson641 (10 games)
O.J. Howard635 (10 games)
Duke Johnson743
Nelson Agholor854
Jarvis Landry953
Austin Ekeler526

2019​

PLAYER2018 TD2019 PROJECTED TD2019 ACTUAL TD
Tyler Lockett1068
Eric Ebron1463 (11 games)
Melvin Gordon III14129 (11 games)
Calvin Ridley1077
Antonio Brown1591 (1 game)
Todd Gurley II211614
Mike Williams1172
Kenyan Drake968
Phillip Lindsay1087
Tyler Boyd745
Alvin Kamara18146
Tevin Coleman967

2020​

PLAYER2019 TD2020 PROJ2020 ACTUAL
Derrick Henry181217
Aaron Jones191211
Christian McCaffrey19116 (3 games)
Mark Ingram II1582 (11 games)
Todd Gurley II1499
Raheem Mostert1083 (8 games)
Cooper Kupp1063
A.J. Brown9711
Darius Slayton853
Austin Ekeler1173 (10 games)
Deshaun Watson843
Taysom Hill739
Darren Fells734
Tre'Quan Smith524
There are 64 names here and, in 59 cases, the player scored fewer touchdowns the following season. That's an absurd hit rate of 92% and all five exceptions came during the historically offensive 2018 and 2020 seasons (not to mention that four of Taysom Hill's nine scores came during his four unexpected starts at QB). Even if we cross off players who barely saw the field (David Johnson, Karlos Williams, Antonio Brown, Christian McCaffrey), the evidence remains extremely strong.

This is far from surprising, as we've learned over the years that players simply cannot sustain extremely high scoring rates. It's not a knock on their talent. Scoring is simply more about opportunity.

You want proof? Good, I have it.

During the 2009 to 2019 seasons, there were 207 instances in which a player totaled 10 or more touchdowns as a rusher or receiver. Of those players, a whopping 177 (85.5%) scored fewer touchdowns the next season and the average change was a decrease of 5.3 TDs. Of the 45 instances in which a player scored 14-plus touchdowns, 43 scored fewer times the next season (average dip of 8.2 TDs). The only exceptions were Todd Gurley II (19 in 2017, 21 in 2018) and Marshawn Lynch (14 in 2013, 17 in 2014).

Last season, Alvin Kamara (21), Davante Adams (18), Tyreek Hill (17), Derrick Henry (17), Dalvin Cook (17) and Adam Thielen (14) were the six players who reached 14 offensive TDs.

Instances Of 10+ TD (Rush & Rec), 2009-19
Percentage With Fewer TD Following Season​

TDINSTANCES% WITH
FEWER TD
AVG. TD
DECLINE
15+2796%9.2
141896%6.7
133390%4.8
124484%2.9
113985%5.7
105686%4.3
Total20786%5.3
As if that's not enough to help us predict touchdown regression, we also have opportunity-adjusted touchdowns (OTD). In this piece, I'll be referencing OTD, which is a statistic that weighs every carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player's scoring opportunity. Put another way, it is how many touchdowns a league-average player would've scored with the exact same opportunity as the player shown.

A careful examination of each of the below player's 2020 usage tells us that we should expect a drop in scoring production this season.

Be sure to also check out the list of players who will score more touchdowns this season. Note that this study is limited to regular-season rushing and receiving data.

i

Robert Tonyan, TE, Green Bay Packers | 2020 TDs: 11 | 2021 projected TDs: 6

Tonyan is 2021's poster boy for statistical regression to the mean. His 18.6% TD rate in 2020 was easily highest in the NFL and the next-closest player with 50-plus targets was Adam Thielen at 13.1%. Consider this: From 2009-19, 29 tight ends posted a season with a TD rate at or above 8.5% on 50-plus targets and then saw 50-targets again the next season. Of those 29 TEs, 27 had a lower TD rate and 27 scored fewer TDs the next season. Tonyan's 59 targets ranked 22nd at the position in 2020 and he'll need a big boost in that department this season in order to offset inevitable regression and repeat as a top-five fantasy tight end.

i

Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints | 2020 TDs: 21 | 2021 projected TDs: 11

Kamara's 21 offensive TDs last season paced the NFL and tied for 15th most in a single season in league history. The gap between his actual TD total and expected total (12.3) was the largest in the NFL. Kamara ranked fifth among backs in touches (270) and eighth in carries inside the 5-yard line (12), so he was obviously way over his head. Kamara has 13 or more scores in three of his four NFL seasons, though he was limited to six on 253 touches in 2019. In addition to the inevitable TD regression to the mean, Kamara's scoring will also be affected by Drew Brees' retirement.

i

Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings | 2020 TDs: 14 | 2021 projected TDs: 9

Thielen has paced the WR position in TD rate each of the past two seasons, but his 13.1% rate in 2020 was more than double his previous career rate and his 14 scores were more than half his previous career total (25). His 20 end zone targets were three more than any other player and his 13 TDs on those plays are the most the league has seen since Rob Gronkowski converted 13 in 2011. The 31-year-old will remain a featured target near the goal line, but his scoring pace will surely slow down.

i

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs | 2020 TDs: 17 | 2021 projected TDs: 11

Hill's elite playmaking ability and terrific connection with Patrick Mahomes has allowed him to "break" TD regression to the mean throughout his career (47 TDs, 28.2 expected TDs), but even he is a long shot to keep up his torrid 2020 pace. Hill caught a career-high 15 TDs (he averaged 8.0 in his first four seasons) and ran for two more on 13 carries (he totaled four rush TDs in his first four seasons). A return to earth is on the horizon.

i

Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers | 2020 TDs: 18 | 2021 projected TDs: 12

Adams has caught 58 TDs since 2016, which is 11 more than any other player. Of course, during that span he cleared 13 TDs in a season only once and that was the 18 he scored in 2020. Adams is fantasy's top WR and a good bet for double-digit TDs (he's achieved that in four of the past five seasons), but odds are 2020 will go down as his career high in the TD department.

i

Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers | 2020 TDs: 11 | 2021 projected TDs: 7

Claypool was a top-25 fantasy WR as a rookie, but the Notre Dame product benefited greatly from hitting on low-percentage plays. Claypool ranked 47th at WR in routes (429) and was outside the top 25 in targets (107), receptions (62), yards (873) and end zone targets (seven), but still managed to catch nine TDs while adding two more on 10 carries. Even if Claypool's usage increases in his second season, his TD total is likely to drop.

i

Jonnu Smith, TE, New England Patriots | 2020 TDs: 9 | 2021 projected TDs: 4

Smith signed a sizable contract with New England during the offseason after never finishing higher than 15th at TE in routes, targets, receptions, yardage or fantasy points during four seasons in Tennessee. He had also failed to clear three TDs in a season prior to exploding for nine in 2020. Smith was targeted "only" 65 times (17th most at TE) and his 12.3% TD rate was third highest in the NFL. Expect the short-area target to crash back to earth in the TD department in his first season with the Patriots.

i

Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans | 2020 TDs: 17 | 2021 projected TDs: 14

I don't like being in the business of doubting Henry, but he scored 17 TDs last season after scoring 18 in 2019. That may seem like a good thing, but consider that LaDainian Tomlinson is the only player in NFL history with 17-plus TDs in three consecutive seasons. The good news is that Henry has led the league in carries and rushing yards each of the past two seasons and his career-high 17 carries inside the 5 ranked fifth in 2020. Bet on a slight step back in 2021.

i

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers | 2020 TDs: 9 | 2021 projected TDs: 6

Smith-Schuster had never cleared seven offensive TDs in a season prior to making the leap to nine last season. His usage suggests the output was fluky, as he had a decent number of end zone targets (11), but not much additional work near the goal line (5.8 OTD).

Smith-Schuster entered 2020 having scored 17 offensive TDs with a 16.4 OTD, so he had been pretty much right on track prior to what appears to be a fluky showing last season. He is on the field a ton (first at WR in routes in both 2018 and 2020), but we should expect his TD total to dip this season.

i

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans | 2020 TDs: 7 | 2021 projected TDs: 4

Tannehill's passing efficiency has been so ridiculously good that we could probably feature that here, too, but for now we're just focused on his rushing. Tannehill scored six TDs (7.9 OTD) on 248 carries during his first six NFL seasons, but has racked up 11 TDs (4.9 OTD) on 86 carries during a pair of seasons in Tennessee. He carried the ball inside the 5 only three times last season, but managed seven TDs (3.2 OTD) on 43 attempts. A return to earth is likely in 2021.

i

A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans | 2020 TDs: 11 | 2021 projected TDs: 9


Tannehill's top target has been nothing short of elite in the scoring department so far in his young career. The 2019 second-round pick has caught 19 TDs on 190 targets and also has a rushing score on one of his three carries. Brown ranked fifth in the NFL with a 9.5% TD rate as a rookie and actually increased that to 10.4% (seventh highest) in 2020. Brown has done all this despite an 8.4 OTD during the two seasons. In fact, that 6.5 gap between his 11 TDs (12th most) and 4.5 OTD (106th) last season was fourth highest in the entire NFL. Brown has a high ceiling, but we should still bet the under based on his usage.

Others: Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Jets; Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals; Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

NFL training camps: Updates, fantasy football intel and nuggets from Cowboys, Raiders, Chargers, Rams and Dolphins visits​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

The NFL universe is opening back up. Last year around this time, teams were hunkered down, just hopeful to finish a practice without any COVID-19 issues. Reporters watched the action from assigned circles before scurrying back to their cars for uninspired videoconferences. Most human interaction was reduced to waves from the distance of a Patrick Mahomes deep ball.

Now, a sense of normalcy has flooded camps around the league. Media can roam sidelines and chat with coaches and players. Reporters can small-talk team officials without internet buffering. And that means more insight into the teams you love.

I'm fresh off the road, traveling nearly 7,000 miles by plane and another 700 by car, popping into Miami before hitting the West Coast. After working the sidelines -- water bottle in one hand, notebook and team roster in the other and sunscreen in the rental car nearby -- here's a sizable notebook on what I learned at the camps for the Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, including how each team is looking in the early going and a bunch of useful fantasy tips for all five potential playoff teams. Let's start in Dallas.


i

Dallas Cowboys

Date visited: Aug. 10

Return of the Dak



The big question Tuesday was where quarterback Dak Prescott stood with his shoulder injury that put him on ice for much of camp. The Cowboys switched from a full practice to a walk-through, so there wasn't much to glean from a competitive standpoint. But the team was pleased with Prescott's brief throwing session with Amari Cooper as both ran through the no-huddle paces against air.

After asking around throughout camp, I sense zero concern that Prescott's shoulder issue will linger. As of Tuesday, the team was evaluating whether to play Prescott a series or two in the second preseason game Aug. 21 against Houston. This would be Prescott's first game action since Oct. 11, when he injured his now-surgically repaired ankle.

The Cowboys are putting Prescott through a ramp-up period of seven to 10 days, and light throwing is part of the process. They don't want him firing the ball right after sitting for an extended period.

The ankle is almost an afterthought now. The team figured once Prescott was clear of infection post surgery, the road to full recovery was clean. Early in camp, Prescott even made a point to roll to his left and fire deep down the sideline in 7-on-7, without a pass rush. I'm told he worked on that particular throw a lot in the summer, making sure that last hurdle was easy to clear.

Quinn-ing

Every team is optimistic in August, but the Cowboys' giddiness overflows. There's a sense of relief here, as in a feeling of "this is what we were supposed to be." Coach Mike McCarthy getting his first full training camp in Oxnard with a healthy team engenders such feelings. But the buzz around defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is palpable with just about everyone associated with the team.

I'll put it this way: Some with the Cowboys are already wondering whether Quinn will get another head-coaching job somewhere. That's how sizable an impact Quinn has made thus far.

Dallas has upgraded talent, to be sure, adding 15 new defensive players via free agency and the draft. But the Cowboys believe they are more organized -- with more talkative players -- under Quinn. He goes to great lengths to foster communication. Safety Damontae Kazee, who was with Quinn in Atlanta, told me Quinn once mic'd him up for Falcons training camp practices because he wasn't vocal enough. The idea was, he could listen back and imagine he was an offense facing such a quiet opposing safety.

Quinn promises more variety with his scheme that he refreshed in between jobs this offseason, believing he needed a new look.

"This package is truly new, where we're going," Quinn said. "It [won't] be just one thing that we've done before."

Cowboys fantasy tips and camp notes

  • That the Cowboys expect a massive year from Ezekiel Elliott is not just something to say; they are banking on a major rebound, possibly in the form of his first 20-carry-per-game season since 2018. Sure, the Cowboys have too many high-level receivers to ignore. But they want to sustain drives more consistently this year, largely to help the defense, and feeding Elliott is the still the best way to do that. As one team source said, last year's lack of explosion wasn't all his fault, with a depleted line limiting the chances to break free. "But he's taken the criticism, and he's turning it into fuel," the source added. "He's got juice out there." The tricky part is they will have a hard time keeping Tony Pollard off the field. They want snaps for him, too.

  • I asked DeMarcus Lawrence walking off the practice field whether he expects fewer double-teams this year. "Hell yeah," he said. Lawrence faced a reasonable 46 double-teams last year, per ESPN Stats & Information. But Lawrence gets plenty of attention from offenses because the Cowboys haven't had dominant rushers on the other side. Lawrence seems to like the odds of that changing, either through scheme or personnel, including first-round linebacker Micah Parsons.
  • There was major praise for tight end Dalton Schultz around camp. He shouldn't get lost in the mix despite the return of Blake Jarwin from injury. Some with the Cowboys low-key thought Schultz got better than any other Cowboy in 2020 based on his capacity. Jarwin is a great runner, so they want him doing that to get open while Schultz does a little bit of everything.
  • Dallas was concerned about overloading Parsons, who can blitz, cover and make open-field tackles. That's a lot for any rookie. But Quinn and the staff believe they've streamlined all those duties so that Parsons can go downhill. It's sort of a three-in-one approach: He can line up a certain way but make a move based on the play call or where he's directed.
  • Receiver Michael Gallup is legitimately excited to get reps inside and out, but it's not just him. The Cowboys envision interchangeable parts among Cooper, Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, going with the favorable matchup each passing down. And that's partly why they paid Prescott $40 million per year; his mastery of the offense makes sure the ball goes where it needs to go based on the defense.
  • The money crunch between Cooper and Gallup is real, and a calculation Dallas will continue to consider internally. Gallup is a 2022 free agent, and Cooper is owed $20 million, with a $22 million cap hit and $6 million in dead money. They'd love to keep both, but that might not be possible.
  • Dallas is not overly eager to find cornerback help via free agency or the draft. The Cowboys believe Trevon Diggs will make the sophomore jump, and Kelvin Joseph, this year's second-round pick, is probably ahead of schedule.

greyline.png
i

Las Vegas Raiders

Dates visited: Aug. 6, 11

How Yannick got here

The Raiders are counting on Yannick Ngakoue to improve the league's 29th-ranked pass rush, which Ngakoue plans to do thanks to one simple fact: He has a stable home. He admits he had a tough time maximizing his pass rush last season after getting traded twice in a span of two months.

"You'll see a different version of me," said Ngakoue, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with Las Vegas in March. "I'm not a big talker. I let my pads talk. But I just feel like I've been treating myself well mentally and physically."

Ngakoue produced eight sacks in 2020 but felt compromised -- an issue he foresaw when he turned down a long-term deal from Jacksonville at around $19 million per year, with around $50 million in the first two years. The two-time Pro Bowler wanted out of Jacksonville that badly. Minnesota traded for him Aug. 30, which he admits was hard due to lack of reps before game action.

Ngakoue said he could have stayed in Minnesota -- which traded him to Baltimore in October -- but chose to leave. He and GM Rick Spielman had a meeting, and both agreed a parting was mutually beneficial. He called Minnesota a "great place."

But his snaps got cut in half with the Ravens.

"I feel like in Baltimore, I wasn't utilized the right way. That rotation was kind of ugly for me," Ngakoue said. "Pass rushers need rhythm. You have to have multiple plays to set up moves, and I felt like I didn't have that there."

The process reinforced Ngakoue's need for the right fit and what he calls "good energy." He feels at home in Las Vegas, which defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, his first head coach in Jacksonville, sold him on as a destination in free agency. Ngakoue will start on the right edge and likely maintain a high usage each week. The Raiders believe he can adequately stop the run and rush the passer, and he has developed a good bond with bookend Maxx Crosby, so Las Vegas wants those two in sync.

"In free agency, [Bradley] told me this was a great spot for both of us to grow together," he said. "I feel like this is the spot for me based on the energy I'm feeling. Just from the first day I walked in the building, I can tell guys want to be close, guys want to win, and I just feel like this is a great opportunity for myself to try to help lead this group and bring back this 82-83' Raiders [feel]."

Ngakoue considers himself a historian, and he's hoping the Raiders can invoke the spirit of the dominant Raiders teams that were led by Lyle Alzado and Howie Long.

"I still have a lot of dreams and aspirations to be one of the greatest to play this game," Ngakoue said. "And there are great pass rushers who played on multiple teams -- Kevin Greene, Chris Dolan, guys like that who played on four teams before and dominated on a high level. I can do that."

AFC West speed kills

Keeping up in the AFC West means adding speed, and the Raiders feel good about their ability to separate on offense. Las Vegas believes John Brown's 4.3 40-yard dash pedigree has largely held up at age 31, and if Henry Ruggs III makes a sophomore jump, the Raiders have two burners to complement the offense. Zay Jones, who has had a strong camp, is a 4.4 guy with size.

"I think we're right there," Jones said about the team speed. "Really talented guys in respect to other teams in our division. We have to prove it, though. It's not just a combine shirts and underwear 40s. This is grown man football. To be able to put it on film and to run by guys on film and to put up numbers, that's what proves it. As far as the speed, the potential we have as a receiver core with John Brown, Henry, Bryan [Edwards], all those guys. Darren [Waller] I would include as well. We have the weapons to do it."

Raiders fantasy tips and camp notes

  • Waller has missed camp with an ankle issue, but this is not concerning. He has nothing to prove, so the team is taking it slow. If prepping for a regular-season game, Waller would probably be fine. He is one of the best values in the NFL, with salaries of roughly $6 million over each of the next three years. He signed a three-year extension before he became a star, as the Raiders believed in him early. But the team will probably have to address this deal eventually. There's little chance he plays out all three years at that clip, and another massive year from Waller forces the Raiders back to the negotiating table sooner than later.
  • Betting on a Raiders wide receiver in fantasy could be tough because there's good depth but no breakout star. At least not yet. Las Vegas is prioritizing Ruggs, Edwards and Hunter Renfrow, knowing each could have their breakouts in their own way. The Raiders believe Renfrow can become one of the league's top slot guys in 2021, and the trust between Edwards and QB Derek Carr is palpable at Raiders HQ. This is Edwards' first healthy camp, so he has opened some eyes. In the red zone, Carr has no issues throwing to Edwards' shoulders and letting him outmuscle the corner. Ruggs should be the safest play because he seems too talented to bust. The Raiders are working with Ruggs on making defenses feel his 4.2 speed by constantly staying on the attack off the line of scrimmage and refining his route-running. Expect some crossers and quick-hitting stuff in his arsenal to get him going and complement the deep ball. The Raiders also emphasized getting stronger, so Ruggs has added about 12 pounds this offseason.
  • Las Vegas wants to get running back Josh Jacobs into the second level cleanly. That didn't happen often enough in 2020, and internally, the team saw zero drop-off in Jacobs' play despite his 3.9 yards per carry. He just didn't have the blocking. The Raiders believe first-round tackle Alex Leatherwood's run-blocking prowess, when paired with Kolton Miller on the left side, will solidify the edge more often for Jacobs.
  • Trayvon Mullen has been a consistent cornerback in training camp. He'll be hard to take off the field in Year 3. Nate Hobbs is an intriguing slot-corner option while Nevin Lawson serves a suspension. The Raiders like him a lot. And they are hoping Damon Arnette will be the man-press matchup guy they need. He has gotten second-team reps, but I've been told he will have a solidified role in this defense.

greyline.png
i

Los Angeles Chargers

Dates visited: Aug. 7-8

Herbert's progression

Justin Herbert throws feathery bullets. That's basically how coach Brandon Staley described Herbert's throwing to me after last Saturday's session. That Herbert has plenty of arm is no secret. But he's not throwing bricks that bounce off hands and helmets.

"How effortless he throws the football, his revolutions, his velocity -- it kind of sneaks up on you," Staley said. "He's got a strong arm, and it's coming, but it's still catchable and pure for those receivers where they can bring it in cleanly."

This is perfect for receivers, frustrating for defensive backs who watch Herbert throw with touch and velocity. When it comes to Herbert making any possible throw, on the move or from the pocket, "it doesn't surprise me anymore," safety Derwin James Jr. said, "now that I'm seeing it everyday."

A full offseason with new coordinator Joe Lombardi has Herbert in his comfort zone. Last week, Herbert relayed plays in a scrimmage setting entirely from his headset, ditching the wristband. That was a big step.

The buzz couldn't be larger for Herbert, who heard M-V-P chants from fans behind his new conference Sunday.

The defensive engine

Staley has coached cornerback Jalen Ramsey from his days as Rams defensive coordinator and now James with the Chargers. Both of those players were Florida State teammates and are still close friends.

"[James] is one of the few peers that Jalen sees as a guy who can live up to his ability," Staley said.

That's high praise for a player who will be the engine of the Chargers' defense. Despite missing 27 games the past two years due to foot surgery and a meniscus tear, the Chargers are giving James more, from slot-corner duties to post-safety roaming and blitzing. His injuries don't have to be managed, so no one's holding back. Which is exactly how James wants it.

Chargers fantasy tips and camp notes

  • Not many receivers are in a better spot than Mike Williams, who will make $15.7 million on a fifth-year option before hitting free agency. I'm hearing the Chargers and Williams are not expected to reach a long-term extension. It's easy to figure out why: Williams is in a great financial spot by simply staying put. And he figures to produce in a big way this year. His chemistry with Herbert was on display during the two practices I saw, including a touchdown in the back of the end zone during a scrimmage at SoFi Stadium. "We need to get him the ball more," said Herbert of Williams, whose 85 targets last year ranked 56th in the NFL, behind Keelan Cole, Brandon Aiyuk and Darius Slayton. "He's one of those guys that you just have to find out there. He's going to get open. He's so physical, fast and strong that he's going to win -- jump balls, deep balls and intermediate routes. I think we need to get him more involved in the short game and the quick game because he's an incredible player."
  • Staley calls Los Angeles' receiving core "the deepest ... I've ever been a part of," which will prompt some tough roster decisions come September. Take third-round rookie Joshua Palmer, who will be hard to keep off the field. Herbert calls him a "very tough, physical kid" who works hard. And Palmer might be fifth on the depth chart. Former seventh-rounder K.J. Hill Jr. has impressed, too. Couple that with the Chargers' three-receiver setup led by Jared Cook and numbers will inevitably be compromised somewhere.

  • Don't expect Keenan Allen's numbers to be compromised, though. "He's the best at what he does," Herbert said. "He's just able to win so many routes. His explosiveness, his I.Q., his ability to kind of defeat the leverage of the defenders, I think he knows it just as well as anyone. He's super smart. He's going to do really well this year."
  • The Chargers don't sound like a team that will rely on one running back. "We really believe in having that diversity, that variety of runners that can really change the pace on a defense," Staley said. Staley then referenced using "different styles of running backs" depending on the scheme and keeping them all fresh for four quarters. Austin Ekeler is the lead back, and he will see his share of screen passes, but no player feels like a slam dunk for fantasy purposes. The team is high on several backs, including late-round rookie Larry Rountree III.
  • Is this team thinking playoffs? "I definitely believe we can be in the playoffs standing," James said. "I can't wait to get there."

greyline.png
i

Los Angeles Rams

Date visited: Aug. 9

A new QB1

I kept hearing about Matthew Stafford's strong start to his first Rams camp, so I wanted to see up close how it's going. He looks in complete control of the offense, and what stood out is decisiveness. Stafford didn't waste time delivering the ball. Instead of waiting for the 40-yard hole shot between three defenders, he made the easy throw. And when it was time to uncork a deep ball, it was set up perfectly, off play-action, finding a streaking Van Jefferson for the score. And the screen game was tight, with Stafford getting the ball to several playmakers.

"The thing he's grasping onto quickly is what the goal of the scheme is and being able to accelerate that," wide receiver Cooper Kupp told me. "He's doing stuff where, I know where this is supposed to go, I know my options based on this coverage, so I'm moving guys so it's not just a bang-bang play. He's getting guys open, creating space before the ball comes out.

"His ability to move players underneath and create separation is pretty special."

Stafford is constantly talking with receivers between plays and practice sessions about what's happening on the field, and Kupp said he shares digital videos with Stafford when the two are doing independent film work from home.

The Rams' chief concern isn't developing Stafford on the field but keeping him healthy. After Stafford hurt his thumb on a helmet earlier in camp, the linemen were soon wearing extra padding outside of their helmets. (The Rams are full of fun tricks, such as condensed goal posts to challenge kickers.)

Building the Rams

Arms folded and smacking gum, Rams GM Les Snead overlooks a roster he built in an unconventional way. Los Angeles is in the middle of a seven-year stretch without a first-round pick (2017-23) thanks to a pursuit of premium players such as Jalen Ramsey and Stafford.

Arriving at these moves is complicated yet quite simple, as Snead explains it. If you're contending each year, you're probably (hopefully?) picking in the 20s in the first round. And if you feel the drop-off from the 20s to, say, the 50s or even the third round isn't severe, move pieces around to get proven talent while flooding the zone with compensatory picks and midround gems.

Then there's another element, which is crucial to training camp: starting young players on rookie deals instead of costly free agents. Trading for stars means paying stars, and cap concerns allow for only so many stars on the payroll. Gauging those young players could be the most crucial element of camp for Snead.

"To eliminate the concern, we've got to trust our ability to identify players, to partner with the coaches to see who helps us win and trust our coaches to help us develop those players," Snead said.

Most teams do this, but it's especially crucial when trading cheap rookie contracts for $20 million players. (The Rams currently have $7 million in cap space.)

Last year at linebacker, Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder and Kenny Young helped replace Cory Littleton. That kind of calculation is playing out this year, too. The Rams need a third corner after losing Troy Hill, so they want David Long to produce. He has had an uneven camp, but the Rams are trusting the process with him and others. Former third-round pick Brian Allen also steps into the starting center role full-time.


"We have to have the courage to say, you know what, we'll play [those guys] without much experience, because we can't go out and add a $4 million guy," Snead said. "The strategy is, let's try to pay our pillars, pay within and develop on our younger players and relying on them."

Would the Rams dump even more first-rounders in the hunt for dream players?

"Good question," Snead said. "I would answer it this way ... we should do our part in analyzing every opportunity."

Rams fantasy tips and camp notes

  • There's a feeling Kupp will get a boost in a Stafford-led offense, which is a lot to ask for a player with 186 catches the past two seasons. But his name was called a bunch during the practice I saw, and the quick chemistry between quarterback and slot receiver seemed obvious. Robert Woods will get his, too, of course. But maybe Kupp's game will expand, which he has thought about lately, especially if that means more work on the outside. "I'm always asking for more," Kupp said. "I never want to get pigeonholed in one thing. The goal for everyone here, the more you can do the better. I also take pride in what's happening across the field and what to do. There are really fun things about being singled outside as an X that I don't get to experience as much. I'd love to do that stuff. At the same time, I know what my role is in the offense, being able to execute my role is the utmost priority. If my number is called for other stuff, that comes into play as well."
  • The Rams appear all-in on Darrell Henderson Jr. as the lead running back. He got several carries in a six-play segment I saw. Nothing much intrigues the Rams in free agency, and Henderson is a strong fantasy play early in the season as the Rams try to establish the run to help Stafford. Because that's kind of the point of this whole Stafford experience, right? He won't have to do everything like he did in Detroit.
  • Remember the name Jake Funk. The seventh-rounder out of Maryland is earning tailback reps with his quick understanding of the offense and open-field vision. The Rams are very happy with his progress. The Rams like Xavier Jones, too, so they feel good about the backs behind Henderson for now.
  • Van Jefferson has a good chance to man the No. 3 receiver spot despite the arrival of DeSean Jackson. He has had a really strong camp. Jackson will have his packages, but the Rams won't overload his snaps, and Jefferson could often to be the first to spell Kupp and Woods out of two-receiver sets. At least that's the way it's trending.

greyline.png
i

Miami Dolphins

Date visited: July 31

Leadership earned

On a basic level, QB Tua Tagovailoa is having a successful training camp because he's staying on the attack as a passer and throwing with anticipation and accuracy. But running back Myles Gaskin tells me it's deeper than that. Tagovailoa's leadership is showing up in a big way on and off the field. He's not afraid to call guys out. Gaskin has seen Tagovailoa, in their post-practice huddles shortly after the action ends, bluntly assess what went right or wrong that day. Gaskin calls him "more complex" and "vocalized" now.

"A lot of people are given that [leadership] right to be a quarterback," Gaskin said. "But he has earned it. ... I'm impressed with how he has stepped into a leadership role with no problem."

Teammates know last year wasn't easy for Tagovailoa, who was benched twice midgame and probably needed a full season to recover from offseason hip surgery. He has a clear runway this year and is taking advantage.

RB workload

Gaskin prepared for a bigger workload this offseason, working on his explosion and overall health while training in Washington.

Projecting exact carries is difficult, but the signals are obvious: Miami must improve its 3.9 yards per carry from a year ago (fourth worst in the NFL), it hasn't aggressively pursued running backs via free agency or trade like last year, and no other Dolphin had more than 75 carries.

"I'm just trying to bring more every year, be more of a leader," said Gaskin, who had 584 yards on 142 carries in his second season. "Not trying to think about the role as much as just getting 1% better every day."

Dolphins fantasy tips and camp notes

  • The Dolphins low-key believe Robert Hunt can be a Pro Bowl-level guard. That's partly why they identified right tackles in free agency and eventually landed on Liam Eichenberg in the second round. Hunt's reaction when the team asked him to move from tackle? Just get him on the field. "I want to play," Hunt said. "I'll do whatever the team needs me to do and win. It could be long snapper for all I care." All this should help improve the running game.

  • Albert Wilson has capitalized on the absences of several receivers early in camp, connecting early and often with Tagovailoa. Returning on a reworked $3 million contract after a 2020 opt-out, Wilson is finding open lanes against various coverages or simply outshaking people to the ball. It would be a pretty big surprise if he doesn't have a solidified role, possibly a sizable one.
  • Tight end Mike Gesicki has averaged 52 catches annually since 2019. A few NFL scouts predict that'll be higher in 2021. "He's such a matchup nightmare that he should be Tua's best friend," an AFC scout told me. And Gesicki is in a contract year, which helps.
  • The battle for the starting center spot between Matt Skura and Michael Deiter should persist into preseason games. Deiter seems to have the slight edge right now. Yes, Skura has more experience. But when asked about Deiter, Hunt says he is "a leader and a darn good football player, physical, smart." It should be noted that the Dolphins like to experiment on the line in camp to figure out the best five players to protect Tagovailoa.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

NFL training camps: Fantasy football tips, nuggets and what I learned at Titans, Colts and Saints stops​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Hopefully, you didn't think I was done.

Last week, I recapped the first four stops of my training camp tour, when I visited the Bills, Steelers, Browns and Lions. I made three more stops. Drove from Detroit to Indianapolis and then from Indianapolis to Nashville, then flew from Nashville to New Orleans. (Eight-and-a-half hours is a little bit outside of my maximum preferred driving time.) Then I finally flew home after two weeks on the road.


Since many of you seemed to enjoy the updates from my first four stops, I thought I'd send in a recap of the final three. These include notes on the quarterback situations in Indianapolis and New Orleans, the latest on star wide receivers Julio Jones and Michael Thomas and a whole bunch of tips that could help you draft your fantasy football team soon.


i

Indianapolis Colts

Dates I visited: Aug. 7-8



The first thing you should know is that the Colts aren't panicking. They opened training camp with a couple of gut punches -- news of foot injuries that required surgery and extended missed time for newly acquired starting quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. No one was pretending these things didn't matter, but neither were the Colts scouring the league for potential replacements. The strong sense I got was that the team expected Wentz and Nelson to be able to return on the shorter end of the broad timetable of 5 to 12 weeks that was initially given, which means they could have one or both of them back for Week 1, if not soon after.

When I was there, second-year quarterback Jacob Eason was running the first-team offense but didn't look great. I was not surprised when, two days later, I heard the news that rookie sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger was getting first-team reps. The Colts love Eason's arm and overall talent, but everyone I asked about Eason, a fourth-round pick in 2020, also mentioned Ehlinger's presence and poise. If the Colts need someone to keep the car out of a ditch for a couple of weeks while they wait for Wentz and just not mess anything up too badly, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them pick Ehlinger to start over Eason.

"The game is slower for him [than it usually is for a rookie], which is good," Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady told me of Ehlinger. "He sees it well, processes fast. He's just got to get the reps. You can tell he's constantly thinking, making checks. He had one that was a delay of game, so I was like, 'I like the thought process, I like that you recognized, you've just got to be quicker.'"

Again, though, the Colts believe they might not have to be without Wentz -- for whom they gave up multiple draft picks in a February trade -- for long, and the offseason he had prior to the injury encouraged them that he can be the player he was early in his career when he and Colts coach Frank Reich worked together in Philadelphia.

"We were pretty excited about what we had seen in practice -- really excited, in fact," Colts general manager Chris Ballard told me. "He's looked like what we hoped he would."


Can the D hold it down?​

If the defense has to handle things while the offense gets healthy and comes together, the Colts believe it can. They consider their front seven a major strength, with star linebacker Darius Leonard, fresh off a new five-year contract extension, in the middle of everything and guys such as DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart pushing around people up front. Brady even joked that going against Buckner and the Colts' defensive line was making practices pretty tough with backup quarterbacks and the backup offensive linemen who have been playing in place of Nelson and injured center Ryan Kelly.

The organization is particularly excited about rookie pass-rusher Kwity Paye, their first-round pick in April. The Colts have him lined up as a starter in practice, and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus told me that Paye has been delivering. "Plays the run better than we thought he would, and he can really turn the corner," Eberflus said.

They expect an immediate impact from the rookie, have seen major strides from 2019 second-round pick Ben Banogu and expect rookie second-rounder Dayo Odeyingbo -- who tore an Achilles in January -- to contribute at some point this season as well. The Colts are confident in their defensive line depth.


Indianapolis fantasy football tips​

• I moved Jonathan Taylor up a bit in my fantasy running back rankings after this visit. Reich can't stop gushing about him. "J.T. looks dominant," Reich said. "The way he ended up last year, and he feels like he's in midseason form right now with the way he's seeing it, his cuts and his footwork."

Ballard told me Taylor, a second-round pick in 2020, has taken a big step forward in the passing game as well. They still have pass-catching back Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack, who rushed for 1,091 in 2019, is coming back from an Achilles injury. Taylor, they believe, has the ability to do everything. "What he's doing in the passing game here in camp is really impressive," Ballard said. "He's worked hard on it, and it's going to be pretty special. He's a kid that gets stronger. I mean, carry 1 and carry 25. He's got great conditioning, great endurance. We think this guy is really special."

• The Colts' other second-round pick last year was wide receiver Michael Pittman, and if you're wondering whether he's the Colts' No. 1 wideout, you should not. Reich said Pittman also looks "dominant," and that Pittman went into the offseason "with a mission" after his strong showing in the playoff loss in Buffalo (six touches, 101 yards).

"He's just taking in all the knowledge he can," Colts cornerback Xavier Rhodes told me about Pittman. "I try to give him little tips that I can from going against all the receivers I've gone against over the years, and you can tell he wants all the information. He wants to be great."


• The offense won't work if the offensive line can't block, of course, so if you're looking at Colts fantasy players you need to know about the health of the line. We've already talked about Nelson, who should be back before long. Kelly, who's dealing with an elbow injury, is expected back in time for the season. And left tackle Eric Fisher, signed this offseason after tearing his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game while with Kansas City, should be able to play early in the season. The Colts haven't publicly ruled out the possibility of Fisher being back in time for Week 1. Realistically, it seems as if it'll have to be at least a few more weeks than that, but they believe he can play in September, which only helps all of these other guys.

_end_rule.png
i

Tennessee Titans

Dates I visited: Aug. 9-10

I always ask coaches and general managers what's the biggest thing they're trying to get figured out in camp. Titans coach Mike Vrabel was quick with his answer.

"Just get healthy," Vrabel said. "A lot of guys aren't out there. It's hard to get better when guys aren't out there. But it's something we've got to manage."

Vrabel estimated that there were 15 players out of practice with health issues Tuesday, when we spoke. And this was on a day when top wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has been eased back into action following offseason knee surgery, actually was out there.

Vrabel seemed more concerned about guys being able to get up to speed than he did with health issues lingering into the offseason. They have reason to believe trade acquisition Julio Jones will answer the bell even if he is managing his way through camp. And edge rusher Bud Dupree, whom they signed to a big-money free-agent deal even though he tore his Achilles in December, appears to be on track for Week 1. The Titans activated Dupree from the PUP list a week and a half ago so he could spend time on the practice field with the rest of the team and get used to hearing the play calls, even if he's not ready to actually practice yet. He's upbeat about his recovery.

"Right now, physically I feel good, mentally I feel good, 100%," Dupree told me. "So now it's just a timetable of whatever those guys want."

As a team, Tennessee had just 19 sacks last season. Four of those came in its final regular-season game, and only the Jaguars and Bengals had fewer overall. Dupree was a priority add as an edge rusher to help with that, but the team also hopes for more pass-rush production out of 2018 second-round pick Harold Landry on the edge and 2019 first-rounder Jeffery Simmons from the interior. The Titans' defense allowed opponents to convert a league-high 51.9% of their third downs in 2020.

"Last year obviously left a bad taste for the guys who were here," Titans safety Kevin Byard told me. "Our offense carried us for the most part, and we don't want to have that feeling again."

Vrabel, the former Patriots linebacker, rides players hard in practice. Rookie first-round cornerback Caleb Farley got scolded loudly and temporarily yanked from team drills the first day I was there, and late last week Vrabel said Farley wasn't ready to play in the team's first preseason game.

"I know he cares a lot," Byard said of Farley. "Because when he doesn't make a play or he messes up a little bit, you can tell. I know he wants to make every single play, being a young guy and working back from injury, he's out there trying to make as many plays as he can. But things ain't going to be perfect when you first get out there. Make sure that, if you don't make a play, forget it and drive on. And if you make a play, forget it and drive on."


The 'new' guy on offense​

With highly successful offensive coordinator Arthur Smith having left to become the Falcons' coach, the new offensive coordinator is Todd Downing, who has been on the staff as tight ends coach the past two years. I asked Vrabel how that transition has been.

"Seamless," Vrabel said. "A lot of the same stuff, a lot of carryover for the guys. I think we've tried to promote guys from within, which keeps the consistency of the packages. You try to add some stuff new each year, but also try to keep the bulk of what we've done consistent."

Downing spent one year as the Raiders' offensive coordinator in 2017, and it didn't go well. He was let go after that season when Jon Gruden was hired. Since then, Downing has worked under Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak in Minnesota and under Smith in Tennessee. He surely knows enough not to mess too much with the way the Titans' offense has operated the past two seasons.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill told me that the transition was going well, that he likes and respects Downing and that he doesn't expect it to take long for him to get used to the new voice in his ear calling the plays. The Titans rank first in the league in offensive efficiency since Tannehill became the starter midway through the 2019 season.


Tennessee fantasy football tips​

• Downing believes Anthony Firkser can be a complete tight end and help replace Jonnu Smith's production -- as long as the coaching staff can get the non-pass-catching portion of his game in shape. The Titans have been working with Firkser on his blocking all offseason. And yes, I know you don't get fantasy points for blocking. But if your question is whether Firkser is a startable tight end in fantasy, then you're going to want to know how much he's going to be on the field. The answer to that lies in how well he improves as a blocker.

The Titans have high hopes of making Firkser an every-down contributor. Watch the reports out of the rest of their camp to see how he's coming along as a blocker for clues as to whether you can count on him as a starter in fantasy.

• The Titans do not let running back Derrick Henry work in team drills in practice, and it would be less surprising to see me in one of their preseason games than it would to see Henry in one. This is because they know what they have there and don't want to mess with it. I asked Henry if he has changed or evolved his offseason training routine since he has been in the NFL and he said no. "I tell our media, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. You should take the same approach to whatever strategy you've used regarding Henry in fantasy the past two years.

• I understand that the acquisition of Jones has clouded the Titans' fantasy picture at wide receiver in the minds of some, but I don't think it should. Brown is the alpha wide receiver here. He's eight years younger than Jones and has just 39 fewer receiving yards than Jones over the past two seasons. And his connection with Tannehill runs deeper than anyone else's. Brown was a rookie in 2019 when Tannehill opened the season as Marcus Mariota's backup, and the two were connecting on second-team reps in practice even before Tannehill took over as the starter.

It might be an insult to Jones' résumé to project him to just replace Corey Davis' 65 catches and 984 yards from last season, but that is probably probably pretty close to a fair expectation for the 32-year-old. Jones is already missing practice time with injury, as he did so often the past few years in Atlanta. The Titans are thrilled to have him and believe he will add a lot to their offense. But I think their expectations are realistic, and their feelings about Brown as a true No. 1 -- both now and well into the future -- are well established.


• The bigger fantasy question might turn out to be the identity of Tennessee's Nos. 3 and 4 wide receivers, especially if there's a chance Jones and/or Brown have to miss time with injury. The team signed Josh Reynolds even before it knew it was getting Jones, so it has a role in mind for him. But both Chester Rodgers and Marcus Johnson are having strong camps, and the Titans eventually have high hopes for fourth-round rookie Dez Fitzpatrick. They might end up with more receivers than they can keep, but watch to see who's getting the first-team reps the rest of the way in camp while Jones rests, and you might get some clues as to how to hedge your bets in the Tennessee passing game.

_end_rule.png
i

New Orleans Saints

Date I visited: Aug. 11

What you want to know here is who the starting quarterback is going to be. What I can tell is that I don't know and I don't think the Saints do yet, either. They are working hard to balance everything equally between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill so that they and everyone else know it's a true competition. They get the same number of practice reps. If you ask to interview one of them, they bring you the other one right after, whether you asked for him or not.

So when I got a couple of minutes with coach Sean Payton, I asked him whether he had a timetable for a decision, and he said no.

"It's different from the old training camps, where you might be in camp six or seven weeks, so it's condensed into a shorter period of time," Payton said. "It's important for us to get into this preseason. I'd like to see these guys operate, both of them, in all three of these games. We're getting a lot of valuable work here, but certainly by the end of the preseason games and possibly maybe before that, a week prior to the last game. But I haven't sat down as a staff and said, 'This is the date.' Honestly, there are other things that I'm focused with that are just as important for this team."

Those things include depth at cornerback, where the Saints have signed three veterans since the start of camp and seen Patrick Robinson, who was in line to play a big role at the position, retire. Add in the possibility that Marshon Lattimore has to miss games if the league suspends him for his offseason arrest, and this is a major area of concern that will prompt New Orleans to scour the rest of the league for help as players start to get cut or become available in trades.

"Yeah, we're paying close attention to that," Payton said. "And I would say there's a good chance for us maybe that player may or may not be in the building right now."

The other spot where there's cause for concern is defensive tackle, where three of the four players the Saints leaned on last season are either gone or unavailable to start the season. Sheldon Rankins signed with the Jets. They traded Malcom Brown to the Jaguars. And David Onyemata is suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Those are things that occupy Payton's mind at this point in camp to at least the same extent -- if not more -- than the decision he has to make at quarterback.

"Relative to the quarterback decision, it'll come in time -- certainly before we get to the regular season, but I haven't put a date on it," he said. "Hopefully it's something we begin to see a little more clarity on. Both of these guys are working their tail off, they're both well respected by their teammates, they're really, really good leaders, and that's a good thing."


New Orleans fantasy football tips​

• Payton said he believes that wide receiver Michael Thomas is ahead of schedule in his recovery from foot surgery and that the situation at wide receiver is not keeping him up at night. As for who catches the ball in the meantime ... well, Marquez Callaway has been turning a lot of heads with his practice performances. Tre'Quan Smith and Deonte Harris have both been in the offense for a while, and Harris is a player the Saints believe can contribute more than he has in the past at receiver due to his high-end speed. Chris Hogan, who was added to the roster late last month, has had a good camp could be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Honestly, after watching one practice, I came away thinking I wouldn't be stunned if star running back Alvin Kamara led the Saints in catches in 2021, no matter who the quarterback is.

Those things include depth at cornerback, where the Saints have signed three veterans since the start of camp and seen Patrick Robinson, who was in line to play a big role at the position, retire. Add in the possibility that Marshon Lattimore has to miss games if the league suspends him for his offseason arrest, and this is a major area of concern that will prompt New Orleans to scour the rest of the league for help as players start to get cut or become available in trades.

"Yeah, we're paying close attention to that," Payton said. "And I would say there's a good chance for us maybe that player may or may not be in the building right now."

The other spot where there's cause for concern is defensive tackle, where three of the four players the Saints leaned on last season are either gone or unavailable to start the season. Sheldon Rankins signed with the Jets. They traded Malcom Brown to the Jaguars. And David Onyemata is suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Those are things that occupy Payton's mind at this point in camp to at least the same extent -- if not more -- than the decision he has to make at quarterback.

"Relative to the quarterback decision, it'll come in time -- certainly before we get to the regular season, but I haven't put a date on it," he said. "Hopefully it's something we begin to see a little more clarity on. Both of these guys are working their tail off, they're both well respected by their teammates, they're really, really good leaders, and that's a good thing."


New Orleans fantasy football tips​

• Payton said he believes that wide receiver Michael Thomas is ahead of schedule in his recovery from foot surgery and that the situation at wide receiver is not keeping him up at night. As for who catches the ball in the meantime ... well, Marquez Callaway has been turning a lot of heads with his practice performances. Tre'Quan Smith and Deonte Harris have both been in the offense for a while, and Harris is a player the Saints believe can contribute more than he has in the past at receiver due to his high-end speed. Chris Hogan, who was added to the roster late last month, has had a good camp could be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Honestly, after watching one practice, I came away thinking I wouldn't be stunned if star running back Alvin Kamara led the Saints in catches in 2021, no matter who the quarterback is.

• If I were drafting Kamara in fantasy, I'd keep a close eye on the rest of the Saints' running back depth chart to help determine who to back him up with. Latavius Murray is the answer we're used to, but they did just sign Devonta Freeman, and Murray hasn't been getting a ton of work in practice. He's owed $2.95 million in each of the next two seasons, but none of that money is guaranteed, and Freeman surely signed for the veterans minimum of $1.075 million. The difference between those numbers is not nothing, especially for a team that is constantly pinching salary-cap pennies. If Freeman shows something in camp, it's not out of the question a change gets made there.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140
R.J. White

NFL
Carolina Panthers @ Indianapolis Colts | 8/15 | 1 PM
Panthers +1.5
With injuries to players who weren't going to feature much if at all in this game in Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson, I think it ramps up the pressure on Jacob Eason to come out and shine. But the bigger matchup here could be rookie Sam Ehlinger vs. XFL star P.J. Walker, and I think the Panthers have the edge in that one. Indy should be looking to get out of this game as healthy as possible after their rash of injuries, and I think Walker can dominate for a large stretch of the action and get Carolina the win.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140
John Bollman

FEATURED PICK
CHI. CUBS @ MIAMI | 08/15 | 1:10 PM EDT
MIAMI -137
ANALYSIS: Elieser Hernandez is making just his third start of the season for the Marlins due to injuries and he had been pitching well in his rehab starts. The Marlins have won three games in a row and are actually above .500 at home at 29-27 while the Cubs have now lost 10 straight games and they are 21-39 on the road. Alec Mills is worse on the road with a 1-3 and 5.40 ERA and the Cubs are 1-12 since the Trade deadline. This line might not be out on some books yet, but I would take it up to -160. Take the Marlins at home.

CINCINNATI @ PHILADELPHIA | 08/15 | 1:05 PM EDT
CINCINNATI +130
ANALYSIS: Sonny Gray vs. Aaron Nola and Jesse Winker is back in the lineup for the Reds who tend to struggle against lefties. They face an inconsistent Aaron Nola today though while the Phillies face an inconsistent Sonny Gray. Nola has been much better at home but Gray has reverse splits and has been much better on the road. Both of these teams have been playing well and I think this rubber game should be a toss up so I like the value in the underdog.

ATLANTA @ WASHINGTON | 08/15 | 1:05 PM EDT
ATLANTA -153
ANALYSIS: The Nationals and the Cubs have been to two most fadable teams since the All Star break and I don’t see that changing today. Drew Smyly has pitched well lately and pitched well against Washington this season, although the Nats have the highest wOBA against lefties in the league. Paolo Espino has been solid since entering the rotation, but he won’t pitch more than five innings and the Nats bullpen is terrible. The Nats have lost six in a row and they are 2-11 since the Trade deadline while the Braves are 9-3 since the Trade deadline. Take the Braves to get the sweep.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Deep fantasy football sleepers: Van Jefferson, Sam Darnold worthy of consideration​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Success in fantasy football isn't all about readiness for your draft. If you think your work is done once you've studied only the top 192 names to choose from for your 12-team draft and locked in your initial roster, you're in for a rude awakening.

This game changes swiftly and often dramatically, and the best-suited fantasy managers are ones with far deeper knowledge than merely the player pool for the initial draft. Possessing the requisite knowledge of players who will pop up as September waiver-wire adds gives you a head start on your competition, and if you play in a 14-team league or deeper (think: expanded benches, as is the case in a few of my leagues), those final-round picks often make a huge difference in your team's outcome.

That's where this column comes in: Annually, I provide a list of 10 "deep sleepers," players who by all accounts will not -- and generally should not -- be drafted in a single 12-team standard ESPN league, but who have a far-better-than-the-rest chance from that area of the player pool of making an in-season difference in a league of that size or greater. Familiarize yourself with each of these names and, to a lesser extent, their team situations, as each could become relevant with a few lucky breaks.

To reiterate, this is a deep sleepers column, not one where you'll find "regular" sleepers like Tua Tagovailoa, Zack Moss, Laviska Shenault Jr. or Adam Trautman, as much as I do like all four. Those are commonly mentioned names across ESPN's (and the industry's) pages, and far more relevant players due to their viable-late-pick status in our standard game offerings. This list takes the exercise a step deeper, but understand that with greater speculation comes heightened odds of failure. We're talking skills here, generally speaking, and sometimes their roles never do align.


i

Harrison Bryant, TE, Cleveland Browns: He's an excellent example of a player with the skills to thrive, but a role that looks positively miserable initially, as Bryant is set to begin 2021 third on the Browns' depth chart, behind Austin Hooper and David Njoku. Nevertheless, Bryant, the team's 2020 fourth-rounder, outscored Njoku in fantasy last season, and his team utilized two tight end sets more often than any team in the NFL (531 offensive plays). A solid route runner with above-average hands, Bryant reportedly added muscle during the offseason, something that should help him win more contested catches and potentially expand his receiving role. I was a bit surprised the team brought Njoku back; it's not unthinkable that Bryant could cut into Njoku's role this season and push himself into the positional top-15.

Sam Darnold, QB, Carolina Panthers: Here's a name you know, but through three NFL seasons, Darnold has failed to realize the lofty potential laid out when he was made the No. 3 overall selection in 2018. He has finished as QB27, QB27 and QB33 in his three seasons, starting at least three-quarters of the New York Jets' games in each of those years, but the team moved on from him during the offseason, trading him to Carolina. Darnold now resides in a much better offensive situation, where Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr. and even Dan Arnold give him a much-improved set of receivers, and everyone seems to feel that offensive coordinator Joe Brady might cure what ails Darnold more than Adam Gase could. Darnold still has great arm strength, brings good mobility and he's capable of making the big plays. They're things that give him a top-10 fantasy quarterback's ceiling if everything clicks. But will a change of scenery, and a better situation, result in a turnaround for someone whose decision-making has been the No. 1 area of concern? Hey, this is why we call them "deep sleepers." The ingredients are there, in a way that isn't true for most of the other quarterbacks ranked in his range.


i

Gerrid Doaks, RB, Miami Dolphins: The team's seventh-round draft pick, Doaks is a plenty capable three-down back, albeit one lacking either elite speed or burst. Does that sound familiar? It should, as his competition from within the Miami backfield, namely Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Malcolm Brown (though he fits the power back mold better than the others), fit similar descriptions. That the Dolphins are content changing running backs when they see an opportunity, too, helps any of these players' cause, as one great game might be all it takes for an individual to grab hold of a starting job. Doaks' advantage over his competition is his age (he's 23) and therefore less wear and tear, so keep tabs on his progress in the season's early weeks.

i

Devin Duvernay, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Classify his rookie campaign a disappointment if you wish -- and if you want to do so citing his four total receptions in his three second-half games in which he played 23-plus snaps, I could hardly blame you -- but let's not forget how lengthy the NFL's learning curve is, and the fact that he broke in with the league's most run-heavy offense. That part might not have changed much entering 2021, but this team has to throw at least a little more, no? Duvernay has incredible speed, having been a high school state champion sprinter, and his rookie metrics weren't as bad as they seem. His 76.9% catch rate and 6.23 yards after the catch finish well above league average. Sure, he's a better fit as a slot receiver -- a role Sammy Watkins initially figures to fill -- than on the outside, but Watkins' injury history suggests Duvernay should get his chances in time. Don't give up on him yet.

KJ Hamler, WR, Denver Broncos: He failed to impress as a rookie, held to 5.0 PPR fantasy points or fewer in six of 10 games in which he played at least 30 snaps, and he comes with the curse of being at best the No. 4 target in what's projected to be a below-average passing offense. Still, Hamler brings elite speed despite his smallish size (5-foot-9, 178 pounds), and he was plenty productive when lined up out of the slot, where he scored 56.3 of his 90.1 PPR fantasy points. He'd need to open eyes during the preseason to be a factor in the season's early weeks, but even if he begins as the No. 4 wide receiver on the depth chart, he's considerably more talented than other players in that spot around the league. Hamler is a classic "draft skills over roles" pick in the late rounds.


i

Javian Hawkins, RB, Atlanta Falcons: A smallish back at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, which is probably a large part of the reason he went undrafted, Hawkins exceeded scouts' expectations in his final two seasons at Louisville, totaling 2,347 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing in 21 games. He subsequently latched on with the Falcons, where he'll be part of a backfield that's up in the air behind Mike Davis. Hawkins is battling Qadree Ollison, Cordarrelle Patterson and fellow undrafted rookie Caleb Huntley for the backup job. That's not a lot of top-shelf competition, including Davis, who did a fine job filling in for the injured Christian McCaffrey last season but was maddeningly inconsistent, especially late in the season when he was held beneath 9.0 PPR fantasy points in six of nine games. Hawkins' speed might be a handy tool for new coach Arthur Smith, whose Tennessee Titans offense from 2019-20 was the league's fourth- (47.0% of all offensive plays) and third-most (50.6%) run oriented, respectively.

i

Van Jefferson, WR, Los Angeles Rams: I list these players alphabetically, but when picking between 2020 rookie receiver disappointments, give me Jefferson over Hamler. Jefferson is similarly speedy, brings more size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), and he did catch Jared Goff's eye on the occasional deep ball, highlighting his big-play potential. But here's the big difference between the two: Jefferson is in a much better team situation entering 2021, now the expected No. 3 receiver following the free-agent departure of Josh Reynolds, and the Rams have upgraded at quarterback from Goff to Matthew Stafford. Remember, Sean McVay has never been afraid to line up three wide receivers, so Jefferson has a great opportunity for a big step forward.

Xavier Jones, RB, Los Angeles Rams: Cam Akers' season-ending Achilles injury has opened up a golden opportunity in L.A., where the offense should be better because of the aforementioned QB upgrade, but the early buzz about who benefits has almost entirely centered around Darrell Henderson Jr. Considering Henderson's injury history, however, the race for roles behind him is compelling, with Jones, a 2020 undrafted rookie, particularly appealing. Jones was limited entirely to special teams as a rookie, but he turned in 1,276 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing in 2019 at SMU, where he got good marks for his vision and proved a more-than-capable rushing and receiving back. Jones will have his hands full holding off seventh-round pick Jake Funk for the No. 2 depth chart role, but he has gotten good marks from coach Sean McVay throughout the offseason and has both the statistical ceiling and prospective role expansion you rarely see from a player going as late as he is in drafts.


i


Byron Pringle, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: This one's less about skills speculation than it is a potentially larger-than-expected role, as Pringle, who turns 28 in November, enters 2021 as a fourth-year undrafted rookie with 25 career NFL catches. The Chiefs, blessed with the game's best passer in Patrick Mahomes, are sure to make more than two receivers (No. 1 wideout Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce) fantasy-relevant, and while Mecole Hardman is getting all of the early preseason buzz, Pringle got more opportunity while Sammy Watkins was sidelined during the Super Bowl. Part of that is Pringle's fit in the slot, which was Watkins' former role, but it also speaks well of Pringle that he managed to be better than league average in yards after the catch, air yards and catch rate. It shouldn't come as a complete shock that the Chiefs spoke so highly of him in the preseason's early stages. Hardman is the receiver fantasy managers -- and surely also the Chiefs -- would like to see step up to be Mahomes' No. 3 target, but Pringle isn't a far cry behind.

i

Larry Rountree III, RB, Los Angeles Chargers: New head coach Brandon Staley is an unknown in the role, and new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has more of a history of leaning on the pass than run, but when I hear Lombardi remark that he envisions Austin Ekeler as a Reggie Bush/Alvin Kamara/Darren Sproles-type, I can't help but wonder who might then be his team's Deuce McAllister/Pierre Thomas/Mark Ingram II? Ekeler probably isn't the kind of back who can handle 250-plus rushing attempts with ease, not with all that receiving work, but neither Justin Jackson nor Joshua Kelley seem like a lock in that complementary role. In fact, Jackson is oft-mentioned as a cut candidate. Rountree has immediate appeal in short-yardage situations, thanks to his 211-pound frame, and while the preseason will ultimately settle the backup role, he's the one I want as far as a raw-skills selection.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football rankings: Eric Karabell's wide receiver tiers​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Fantasy football managers tend to love the annual depth at wide receiver, but sometimes they also take it a bit for granted in drafts. Few debate the fact that running back is a bit of a problematic mess, with few stable choices year after year, and then at receiver we know whom we trust and lean heavily on them. Some believe a tiered system exists mainly for running backs. Not so! If one believes the next five wide receivers in the rankings are similar, then it is precisely why one ignores the position for a bit longer.

As noted in my running back tiers column, proper preparation is always key. Making things easier in the heat of a running clock is a welcome advantage and a tiered system helps, and not just at running back. There are perceived drop-offs in value at wide receiver as well, and one can make the mistake of waiting too long to build up roster depth. This is what a tiered system is about: seeing the bigger picture and making better, more informed decisions.

There are myriad ways to construct a fantasy roster, and one can make the case for most of them, in theory, but be careful not to overrate or underrate the position with the greatest depth. That is wide receiver. We love 'em. We need 'em. We can also use a tiered system to figure out their standing, so get ready well before your drafts and figure out how you regard the wide receivers, because they are obviously not all the same.


Tier 1: Round 1​

Davante Adams, Packers
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs
DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
Stefon Diggs, Bills

Notes: Tough to argue against any of these fellows, with Diggs absolutely earning his place after a fantastic campaign. I will never advise one must choose running back in the first round, or any round. Wide receivers are surely safer and more consistent, but build your roster your way. The issue in comparing the top flex-eligible spots is five tiers later the options at wide receiver still look good. Not so much at running back.

Tier 2: Rounds 1/2​

DK Metcalf, Seahawks
A.J. Brown, Titans
Calvin Ridley, Falcons

Notes: Perhaps it should be Round 2 only, but the numbers tell the story. The top seven receivers might actually be one giant and awesome tier, and perhaps safer than even the top running backs. Metcalf is improving. Brown has company in Ridley's former teammate Julio Jones, but it did not hurt Ridley a season ago, and should not hurt Brown today.

Tier 3: Round 3​

Terry McLaurin, Washington
Justin Jefferson, Vikings
Keenan Allen, Chargers
Allen Robinson II, Bears
CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys

Notes: All are solid performers, and likely upgrades at quarterback should aid McLaurin (yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick is an old upgrade), Robinson and Lamb, the newcomer to potential WR1 status.

Tier 4: Round 4​

Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
Robert Woods, Rams
Cooper Kupp, Rams

Notes: Reasonable minds can debate the order for these sets of teammates, but we all agree there is ample talent here and the veteran quarterbacks throwing in their directions still have mad game. The question is whether a fantasy manager can feel confident doubling up on receivers from the same offense. For these teams, there seems to be little risk.

Tier 5: Round 5​

Adam Thielen, Vikings
DJ Moore, Panthers
Diontae Johnson, Steelers
Amari Cooper, Cowboys
Julio Jones, Titans
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
Courtland Sutton, Broncos

Notes: Solid veterans here, and while several of them have likely delivered their finest statistical seasons already, this remains a tier with solid production. This might be the point at which a fantasy manager notices how rough running back looks in 2021, but remember, there are only so many wide receivers one can play in a given fantasy week. Seek balance and avoid relying on rookies, if possible.

Tier 6: Rounds 6/7​

Tee Higgins, Bengals
Ja'Marr Chase, Bengals
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
Deebo Samuel, 49ers
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers
Chase Claypool, Steelers

Notes: Wow. Look at these tandems, two of them relying on exciting, young quarterbacks in Joe Burrow and Trey Lance, and then there is Ben Roethlisberger, still more than competent. As with the Buccaneers and Rams, these systems can support multiple fantasy options at wide receiver, if the passers play well.

Tier 7: Rounds 8/9​

Kenny Golladay, Giants
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
DJ Chark Jr., Jaguars
Robby Anderson, Panthers
Tyler Boyd, Bengals
Curtis Samuel, Washington
Brandin Cooks, Texans
Michael Gallup, Cowboys
Jarvis Landry, Browns

Notes: Some big names fall to lower tiers for various reasons, but fantasy is not a game about the names. You need production and durability. Golladay missed much of last season, and he is hurt again. Beckham missed considerable time, and his offense is run-heavy. Chark is hurt. Then we get to some others who will play important roles -- but perhaps not as the No. 1 option -- for their teams.

Tier 8: Round 10​

William Fuller V, Dolphins
Michael Thomas, Saints

Notes: Thomas was going to stand alone in this tier, but Fuller's career warrants similar inspection and inclusion. When and how much these very talented receivers play and whether we can assume full health from that point onward is the big risk, and one I am unlikely to take, even this late.

Tier 9: Rounds 10/11​


DeVonta Smith, Eagles
Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos
Elijah Moore, Jets
Laviska Shenault Jr., Jaguars
Henry Ruggs III, Raiders
Terrace Marshall Jr., Panthers
Mecole Hardman, Chiefs


Notes: Now I am willing to look at the other rookies and young players getting a legitimate opportunity. Perhaps one or two of the choices in this tier truly break out. After all, other than Hardman with Patrick Mahomes, there are some quarterbacks needing to prove themselves here.

Tier 10: Round 11 and later​

Antonio Brown, Buccaneers
Mike Williams, Chargers
Marvin Jones Jr., Jaguars
Marquise Brown, Ravens
Corey Davis, Jets
DeVante Parker, Dolphins
T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
Marquez Callaway, Saints
Russell Gage, Falcons
Darnell Mooney, Bears
Jalen Reagor, Eagles

Notes: Brown's placement in this late of a tier might seem odd, but he still made my top 50 wide receivers. This is such a deep position! Chances are I will have drafted more running backs than wide receivers through seven or eight rounds of most drafts, looking for wide receiver value later. There is plenty of it. Good luck!
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football rankings: Eric Karabell's running back tiers​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Virtually anyone can rank fantasy football players, from your favorite ESPN analysts to your grandma to your neighborhood plumber, but without context, the rankings really do not tell much of a story, especially in the heightened rush of a draft. Seconds are swiftly ticking down, and perhaps some would simply choose our highest-ranked option available at a position of need. But so often, that is not really the way to go. A tiered system -- your own, preferably -- provides better information, and importantly, more clarity.

Say you are on the clock in Round 4, confused and struggling to decide between players, and then the incessant beeping starts, the nerve-racking signal of an unwelcome deadline for this important decision. With a tiered system, the wise fantasy manager can simply glance off screen to see there is one running back left far ahead of the others in value, while four or five wide receivers of similar statistical consequence remain. Easy decision. Go running back.

After all, there are always drop-offs in value regardless of position -- well, perhaps not kicker -- or fantasy sport, and a tiered system not only reduces stress in the aim of efficiency, but it makes your team better. It makes the experience better, and is that not what we all yearn for these days?

We start this annual exercise with a closer look at running backs, one analyst's thoughts on how he groups the position as of mid-August (we do this for wide receivers as well). It should not be entirely consistent with how you separate the players. We all think differently. These are your teams, so take the time to decide in advance how you view the options. My opinions change, of course, due to various information but also gut feelings on any given day. We will update these lists later in August.


Tier 1: Top of Round 1​

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Alvin Kamara, Saints

Notes: In my opinion, these are the three options for top overall selection, as of today. Yes, there are concerns, always some concerns. McCaffrey played in a mere three games a season ago. Cook has yet to play all 16 games in any season (and now there's one more game to play). Kamara is dependent on his quarterback, and we do not know who that quarterback will be. To be blunt, every running back has something to nitpick.

Tier 2: Later Round 1​

Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Derrick Henry, Titans
Nick Chubb, Browns

Notes: Again, we can nitpick any of the players, even the remarkable Henry, because this exercise is for PPR formats. Henry rarely catches passes and the "R" in PPR is for receptions. I think Taylor will be great, regardless of QB dysfunction. Elliott will bounce back. Chubb can share touches and thrive. These are first-round picks.

Tier 3: Rounds 1/2​

Austin Ekeler, Chargers
Saquon Barkley, Giants
Aaron Jones, Packers

Notes: Some might combine this tier with some players from the previous one or even the next one, but I see a drop-off in each direction. Receptions are the key to this tier, to a large degree. Ekeler and Barkley each surpassed 90 catches in a recent season. I think Ekeler is more likely to repeat the feat in 2021, though. With Barkley, we worry some about volume now as he returns from a serious knee injury. With Jones, his volume concern is about another fellow in the backfield. The opening round is fine for this crew, because we can all wait at wide receiver, where there's tremendous depth.

Tier 4: Rounds 2/3​

Joe Mixon, Bengals
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Antonio Gibson, Washington
Najee Harris, Steelers
D'Andre Swift, Lions
David Montgomery, Bears
J.K. Dobbins, Ravens

Notes: Myriad names here, perhaps too many for some tastes, but it is a young group and it teems with upside, though there are the requisite concerns. Edwards-Helaire must catch many passes to deserve placement here. Gibson and Harris must get many rushing attempts and score touchdowns. Swift, Montgomery and Dobbins must hold off others for volume. Any of these fellows could be RB1 options ... or realistically and disappointingly fall to RB3s.

Tier 5: Round 4​

Chris Carson, Seahawks
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Miles Sanders, Eagles

Notes: Ah, the reasonably young, solid veterans who should be better, but end up as borderline RB2 choices. We would be more surprised if everything went right with them at this point, but they remain strong producers, even as their teams bring in competition, putting each in a precarious career position.

Tier 6: Rounds 5/6​

Darrell Henderson Jr., Rams
Mike Davis, Falcons
Kareem Hunt, Browns
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
Javonte Williams, Broncos

Notes: Intriguing mix of young and old in this section, but great opportunity for several players. Henderson gets the first chance to replace injured Cam Akers, but health has been a concern. Davis appears to be starting but will clearly need some help. Hunt is not starting, but it is tough to tell from his numbers. Perhaps nobody should really worry about who starts, but concentrate on volume. Edmonds and Williams might be in the right place at the right time.

Tier 7: Round 6​

Travis Etienne Jr., Jaguars
James Robinson, Jaguars

Notes: Sure, why not a very special Jacksonville tier! Etienne is the first-round pick and everyone loves him! Robinson was undrafted, he carried teams a season ago and everyone used to love him. I recognize the rookie Etienne boasts more upside if he gets to do more than merely catch passes, but chances are, and this ranking shows it, I end up with Robinson because everyone avoids the 23-year-old sophomore. By the way, Etienne is 22.

Tier 8: Rounds 6/7​

Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
Michael Carter, Jets
Zack Moss, Bills
Damien Harris, Patriots
AJ Dillon, Packers

Notes: Sometimes it simply comes down to commitment, especially in the wild AFC East! Gaskin is apparently sharing touches in Miami. Carter is a rookie with little clarity at this point. Moss and Harris seem like starters today, while Dillon is an important backup outside the AFC East, but none of them caught as many as 15 passes a season ago. This is an issue in PPR formats.

Tier 9: Round 7​

Trey Sermon, 49ers
Raheem Mostert, 49ers
Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers

Notes: One might not consider the San Francisco situational battle at all similar to Tampa Bay's, and that is fair. Sermon is a flashy rookie, Mostert the brittle track star. In Tampa, it is quite clearly a tandem, one many of us avoid. We do not wish to avoid the 49ers, though.

Tier 10: Rounds 7/8​

Melvin Gordon III, Broncos
Phillip Lindsay, Texans
James Conner, Cardinals
Kenyan Drake, Raiders
Jamaal Williams, Lions
David Johnson, Texans

Notes: We have clear symmetry here with six running backs on franchises they did not begin with. Gordon and Lindsay were teammates. Now each fights for touches. Conner ostensibly replaced Drake, but neither has a guarantee for volume. Williams might push Swift for touches and Johnson teams up with Lindsay, possibly. Counting on any of these players for flex status might go wrong.

Tier 11: Rounds 9/10​

Nyheim Hines, Colts
Tarik Cohen, Bears
J.D. McKissic, Washington
James White, Patriots
Giovani Bernard, Buccaneers

Notes: Never ignore the pass-catchers, for they have real value in PPR formats. Look what McKissic did a season ago, hauling in 80 catches. White was nearly an RB1 in 2018, Cohen a solid RB2. They do not need major rushing attempts, merely targets. If you desire to switch Tier 11 with Tier 10, I would not argue.

Tier 12: Round 11 and later​

Devin Singletary, Bills
Malcolm Brown, Dolphins
Gus Edwards, Ravens
Chuba Hubbard, Panthers
Tony Pollard, Cowboys
Alexander Mattison, Vikings
Xavier Jones, Rams
Latavius Murray, Saints
Devonta Freeman, Saints
Darrynton Evans, Titans
Darrel Williams, Chiefs
Tevin Coleman, Jets

Notes: Still some intriguing players at this late stage, including several high-upside choices waiting for injury to befall the first-round stars for the Panthers, Vikings, Cowboys and Titans. Someone like Hubbard seems more of a must for the McCaffrey investor, for example, but the double-digit rounds are for taking wise chances, too.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football rankings: Eric Karabell's running back tiers​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

Virtually anyone can rank fantasy football players, from your favorite ESPN analysts to your grandma to your neighborhood plumber, but without context, the rankings really do not tell much of a story, especially in the heightened rush of a draft. Seconds are swiftly ticking down, and perhaps some would simply choose our highest-ranked option available at a position of need. But so often, that is not really the way to go. A tiered system -- your own, preferably -- provides better information, and importantly, more clarity.

Say you are on the clock in Round 4, confused and struggling to decide between players, and then the incessant beeping starts, the nerve-racking signal of an unwelcome deadline for this important decision. With a tiered system, the wise fantasy manager can simply glance off screen to see there is one running back left far ahead of the others in value, while four or five wide receivers of similar statistical consequence remain. Easy decision. Go running back.

After all, there are always drop-offs in value regardless of position -- well, perhaps not kicker -- or fantasy sport, and a tiered system not only reduces stress in the aim of efficiency, but it makes your team better. It makes the experience better, and is that not what we all yearn for these days?

We start this annual exercise with a closer look at running backs, one analyst's thoughts on how he groups the position as of mid-August (we do this for wide receivers as well). It should not be entirely consistent with how you separate the players. We all think differently. These are your teams, so take the time to decide in advance how you view the options. My opinions change, of course, due to various information but also gut feelings on any given day. We will update these lists later in August.


Tier 1: Top of Round 1​

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Alvin Kamara, Saints

Notes: In my opinion, these are the three options for top overall selection, as of today. Yes, there are concerns, always some concerns. McCaffrey played in a mere three games a season ago. Cook has yet to play all 16 games in any season (and now there's one more game to play). Kamara is dependent on his quarterback, and we do not know who that quarterback will be. To be blunt, every running back has something to nitpick.

Tier 2: Later Round 1​

Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Derrick Henry, Titans
Nick Chubb, Browns

Notes: Again, we can nitpick any of the players, even the remarkable Henry, because this exercise is for PPR formats. Henry rarely catches passes and the "R" in PPR is for receptions. I think Taylor will be great, regardless of QB dysfunction. Elliott will bounce back. Chubb can share touches and thrive. These are first-round picks.

Tier 3: Rounds 1/2​

Austin Ekeler, Chargers
Saquon Barkley, Giants
Aaron Jones, Packers

Notes: Some might combine this tier with some players from the previous one or even the next one, but I see a drop-off in each direction. Receptions are the key to this tier, to a large degree. Ekeler and Barkley each surpassed 90 catches in a recent season. I think Ekeler is more likely to repeat the feat in 2021, though. With Barkley, we worry some about volume now as he returns from a serious knee injury. With Jones, his volume concern is about another fellow in the backfield. The opening round is fine for this crew, because we can all wait at wide receiver, where there's tremendous depth.

Tier 4: Rounds 2/3​

Joe Mixon, Bengals
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Antonio Gibson, Washington
Najee Harris, Steelers
D'Andre Swift, Lions
David Montgomery, Bears
J.K. Dobbins, Ravens

Notes: Myriad names here, perhaps too many for some tastes, but it is a young group and it teems with upside, though there are the requisite concerns. Edwards-Helaire must catch many passes to deserve placement here. Gibson and Harris must get many rushing attempts and score touchdowns. Swift, Montgomery and Dobbins must hold off others for volume. Any of these fellows could be RB1 options ... or realistically and disappointingly fall to RB3s.

Tier 5: Round 4​

Chris Carson, Seahawks
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Miles Sanders, Eagles

Notes: Ah, the reasonably young, solid veterans who should be better, but end up as borderline RB2 choices. We would be more surprised if everything went right with them at this point, but they remain strong producers, even as their teams bring in competition, putting each in a precarious career position.

Tier 6: Rounds 5/6​

Darrell Henderson Jr., Rams
Mike Davis, Falcons
Kareem Hunt, Browns
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
Javonte Williams, Broncos

Notes: Intriguing mix of young and old in this section, but great opportunity for several players. Henderson gets the first chance to replace injured Cam Akers, but health has been a concern. Davis appears to be starting but will clearly need some help. Hunt is not starting, but it is tough to tell from his numbers. Perhaps nobody should really worry about who starts, but concentrate on volume. Edmonds and Williams might be in the right place at the right time.

Tier 7: Round 6​

Travis Etienne Jr., Jaguars
James Robinson, Jaguars

Notes: Sure, why not a very special Jacksonville tier! Etienne is the first-round pick and everyone loves him! Robinson was undrafted, he carried teams a season ago and everyone used to love him. I recognize the rookie Etienne boasts more upside if he gets to do more than merely catch passes, but chances are, and this ranking shows it, I end up with Robinson because everyone avoids the 23-year-old sophomore. By the way, Etienne is 22.

Tier 8: Rounds 6/7​

Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
Michael Carter, Jets
Zack Moss, Bills
Damien Harris, Patriots
AJ Dillon, Packers

Notes: Sometimes it simply comes down to commitment, especially in the wild AFC East! Gaskin is apparently sharing touches in Miami. Carter is a rookie with little clarity at this point. Moss and Harris seem like starters today, while Dillon is an important backup outside the AFC East, but none of them caught as many as 15 passes a season ago. This is an issue in PPR formats.

Tier 9: Round 7​

Trey Sermon, 49ers
Raheem Mostert, 49ers
Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers

Notes: One might not consider the San Francisco situational battle at all similar to Tampa Bay's, and that is fair. Sermon is a flashy rookie, Mostert the brittle track star. In Tampa, it is quite clearly a tandem, one many of us avoid. We do not wish to avoid the 49ers, though.

Tier 10: Rounds 7/8​

Melvin Gordon III, Broncos
Phillip Lindsay, Texans
James Conner, Cardinals
Kenyan Drake, Raiders
Jamaal Williams, Lions
David Johnson, Texans

Notes: We have clear symmetry here with six running backs on franchises they did not begin with. Gordon and Lindsay were teammates. Now each fights for touches. Conner ostensibly replaced Drake, but neither has a guarantee for volume. Williams might push Swift for touches and Johnson teams up with Lindsay, possibly. Counting on any of these players for flex status might go wrong.

Tier 11: Rounds 9/10​

Nyheim Hines, Colts
Tarik Cohen, Bears
J.D. McKissic, Washington
James White, Patriots
Giovani Bernard, Buccaneers

Notes: Never ignore the pass-catchers, for they have real value in PPR formats. Look what McKissic did a season ago, hauling in 80 catches. White was nearly an RB1 in 2018, Cohen a solid RB2. They do not need major rushing attempts, merely targets. If you desire to switch Tier 11 with Tier 10, I would not argue.

Tier 12: Round 11 and later​

Devin Singletary, Bills
Malcolm Brown, Dolphins
Gus Edwards, Ravens
Chuba Hubbard, Panthers
Tony Pollard, Cowboys
Alexander Mattison, Vikings
Xavier Jones, Rams
Latavius Murray, Saints
Devonta Freeman, Saints
Darrynton Evans, Titans
Darrel Williams, Chiefs
Tevin Coleman, Jets

Notes: Still some intriguing players at this late stage, including several high-upside choices waiting for injury to befall the first-round stars for the Panthers, Vikings, Cowboys and Titans. Someone like Hubbard seems more of a must for the McCaffrey investor, for example, but the double-digit rounds are for taking wise chances, too.
 

Wagerallsports

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
2,140

Fantasy football Week 1 shadow report: Key WR/CB matchups​

ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)

By utilizing our play-by-play data, we're able to identify defense schemes and where each wide receiver and cornerback lines up on each play. By tracking these WR/CB matchups, including potential shadow situations, we can offer the best projections, rankings, sit/start decisions and fantasy advice each week. Fantasy football is a weekly game, so knowing the matchups can also help you make the best waiver wire pickups.

Below are the receivers with the best and worst Week 1 matchups, as well as the corresponding fantasy impact.

To view the primary defenders whom the top three wide receivers for each team will see this weekend, be sure to check out my weekly WR vs. CB cheat sheet.

Unless otherwise noted, references to where teams rank in statistical categories adjust to a per-game basis to avoid distortion due to bye weeks.


Advantageous matchups​

Titans' A.J. Brown and Julio Jones vs. Cardinals' Byron Murphy, Robert Alford and Marco Wilson

There are quite a few teams set to enter Week 1 with scary cornerback situations and Arizona is certainly on that list following the departure of Patrick Peterson, the surprising retirement of Malcolm Butler and a season-ending injury to Darqueze Dennard. The fallback plan will include Murphy, a 2019 second-round pick who was solid while playing both inside and out across 755 snaps last season. After Murphy, though, there's trouble. Alford, 32, missed all of 2019 and 2020 due to injury, while rookies Wilson and Tay Gowan and 2020 UDFA Luq Barcoo (struggled on 143 snaps as a rookie) are the other options at the No. 2 and 3 spots. Brown and Jones will see some combination of this group throughout Sunday's game and should obviously be upgraded significantly. Consider No. 3 Josh Reynolds a deep sleeper and DFS tournament punt.

Panthers' Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. vs. Jets' Bryce Hall, Javelin Guidry and TBA rookie CB

The Jets have had issues at cornerback for a few years now, so it should be no surprise to see them here. The issues were expounded during final cuts when 2020 No. 1 corner Bless Austin failed to make the roster. That leaves the team with 2020 fifth-round pick Hall and 2020 UDFA Guidry as its top two options, with four Day 3/undrafted rookies Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock and Isaiah Dunn competing for the No. 3 gig. Perhaps New York found itself a diamond in the rough, but considering its unclear who will be on the field against Carolina, it's likely that corner will remain a major problem area. Meanwhile, the Panthers were one of three teams with three top-25 fantasy receivers last season. Perimeter receivers Anderson and Moore should be locked into lineups and the rookie Marshall makes for a Week 1 sleeper.

Rams' Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson and Cooper Kupp vs. Bears' Jaylon Johnson, Artie Burns and Duke Shelley

Chicago is another team that failed to address a shaky cornerback situation during the offseason. Desmond Trufant didn't pan out as a free-agent signing, leaving the team with Johnson as it's clear top corner. Johnson played an every down role as a rookie and struggled a bit, but perhaps will make a Year 2 leap. Burns is projected for the other perimeter gig. The 26-year-old lost his starting job in Pittsburgh a few years ago and only played a handful of snaps in 2019 before missing all of 2020 with a torn ACL. Shelley is expected to man the slot after underwhelming in the role during the final five weeks of 2020. Rams' slot man Kupp will benefit from that matchup, with Woods, Jefferson and Jackson working the perimeter against Johnson, Burns and perhaps recent Day 3 picks Kindle Vildor and Xavier Crawford. Upgrade the Rams' pass offense.

49ers' Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel vs. Lions' Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye and AJ Parker

If you're asking yourself, "Who is AJ Parker?", you're not alone. The former Kansas State player is one of two UDFA rookie corners to make the Lions 53-man roster and he's the favorite for Week 1 slot duties. On the perimeter, it will be 2020 first-round pick Okudah and Oruwariye. Both played significant roles last season, but struggled badly, with the Lions allowing the most fantasy points to perimeter receivers and the third most to the position overall. Aiyuk (77% perimeter) and Samuel (72%) primarily align outside, but we will see Parker a bit inside as well, and he can obviously be upgraded.

Other notable upgrades:

Buccaneers' Chris Godwin vs. Cowboys' Jourdan Lewis (slot)

Falcons' Russell Gage vs. Eagles' Avonte Maddox (slot)

Vikings' Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen vs. Bengals' Trae Waynes and Chidobe Awuzie

Tough matchups​

Bears' Allen Robinson vs. Rams' Jalen Ramsey (shadow)

These teams have met each of the past two seasons. In Week 11 in 2019, Ramsey shadowed Robinson on 30 of his 49 routes. Robinson was held to a 4-15-0 receiving line on six targets in the game, including one 2-yard catch on three targets against Ramsey. In Week 7 last season, Ramsey did not shadow. Robinson was targeted four times in the game and posted a 4-70-0 receiving line (2-56-0 on 10 routes against Ramsey). Because Ramsey shadowed more in the second half last season, I suspect he will in Week 1 against Robinson. Even if he doesn't, Robinson will see plenty of Ramsey and Darious Williams, who also played very well last season. The Rams allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers in 2020. Robinson is a name to avoid in DFS cash games.

Broncos' Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy vs. Giants' James Bradberry and Adoree' Jackson

During the 2020 offseason, the Giants added one of the best cornerbacks on the market in Bradberry. During the 2021 offseason, the Giants added one of the best cornerbacks on the market in Jackson. The two standouts will man the perimeter for a good Giants' defense and that's troubling news for Sutton (80% perimeter in 2019) and Jeudy (68% perimeter in 2020). Bradberry and Jackson have both shadowed in the past, so it's possible New York utilizes them that way. But both are very good, so it won't matter much who is on who. Sutton and Jeudy should be downgraded a bit, but considering their super cheap pricing, both remain viable DFS options. Consider slot man KJ Hamler a Week 1 sleeper against Darnay Holmes.

Raiders' Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow vs. Ravens' Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith

Baltimore has maintained its status as one of the league's toughest pass defenses and that was on display in 2020 when it allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. The team's top three corners are back, as is slot corner Young, who has missed most of the past two seasons due to injury. Humphrey aligned in the slot 57% of the time last season, but may get more perimeter work this year with Young back. Ruggs (65% perimeter last season) and Edwards (80%) will see a lot of Peters, Smith and Humphrey on the outside, whereas Renfrow will work inside against Young and Humphrey. Las Vegas' wide receivers aren't close to 'set it and forget it' status, so they are best left on benches in Week 1.

Giants' Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton vs. Broncos' Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Ronald Darby and Patrick Surtain II

Golladay (Lions) and Fuller (Bears) have a history from their time in the NFC North together. The two standouts faced off six times from 2017 to 2019, with Golladay being held to an 8-137-2 receiving line on 17 targets (73 routes) against Fuller. Fuller didn't shadow in any of those games and likely won't in Week 1, but life won't be any easier against a stacked depth chart that also includes Darby, first-round pick Surtain and slot man Callahan.

Bengals' Tee Higgins, Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd vs. Vikings' Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackenzie Alexander


The Vikings' defense allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers (fourth most to perimeter) last season, but that was an almost completely different group of players. That's especially the case at cornerback, which could feature three new starters. Peterson, Breeland and second-year player Cameron Dantzler are expected to handle perimeter duties, which is where Higgins and Chase (who could be limited in his NFL debut) will align on most of their routes. Alexander upgrades a slot corner situation that was already pretty good (no team allowed fewer points to the slot last season) and will see a lot of ex-teammate Boyd inside. We don't need to fade Cincinnati's wide receivers completely, but be aware that Minnesota's defense is likely to be much better this season.

Other notable downgrades:

Patriots' Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne vs. Dolphins' Xavien Howard, Byron Jones and Justin Coleman

Chargers' Keenan Allen vs. WFT's Kendall Fuller (slot)

Seahawks' Tyler Lockett vs. Colts' Kenny Moore (slot)

Other Potential Shadow Matchups

Packers' Davante Adams vs. Saints' Marshon Lattimore (shadow)

Lattimore is coming off a bit of a down year, but when he's playing his best, he's one of the top corners in the game. He also shadows most opposing No. 1 wide receivers, which makes it likely that he'll travel with Adams in Week 1. These two last faced off back in 2017 and Lattimore did, in fact, shadow Adams in that game. Lattimore won the battle, holding Adams to an 8-yard catch on three targets, while covering him on 18 plays. Lattimore tends to show up in a big way against the toughest competition, so this may be a stiffer test than usual for Adams. Of course, he's so productive and so heavily targeted that we really don't need to move the needle, especially with Lattimore coming off a shaky 2020.
 
Top